The musical entity Matthew and the Atlas, often referred to as the British Bon Iver, are releasing Temple their second full length album on April 22, 2016. “Temple” is the follow up to their outstanding long play debut Other Rivers The comparison with Bon Iver may not be the best correlation for Matthew and the Atlas’ music but they certainly work within the wheelhouse of artists such as Sufjan Stevens and his ilk. Their music is classic folk pushed into bolder synth laden territory. There is catharsis, drama and melancholy utilized throughout “Temple” as they return to their exciting seminal beginnings.
The group is lead by Matthew Hegarty vocalist/songwriter and multi instrumentalist, with Tommy Heap on bass and keys and also includes this time around the production/electronic folk duo Foreign Fields, who are Brian Holl and Eric Hillman. Hegarty started writing the songs for Temple in the beginning of 2015 setting himself a goal of writing a song a week. He found that goal resulted in a vast amount of material. The song-writing was completed over a three month period in his home studio in Farnborough, UK. From there he headed to Nashville to record the album with Heap, Holl and Hillman.
The beautiful, unsettling and intoxicating Temple is inspired by the imagery of the Scottish Highlands, and also Hegarty’s new parenthood status and how it changed his outlook on life. Many of the songs contain lingering dark clouds that originated and still loom from occurrences in his past. Throughout the release there are full bodied laments and universal truths woven into the lyrics. Hegarty’s attention catching vocals highlight the topics and lyrics of the release.
The majestic Graveyard Parade transpires over a wide soundscape with a shimmering intro. It is haunting and beautiful as Hegarty’s velvet vocals describe a scene in a cemetery where the living and the dead seem to have swapped places, “I never thought you would live and I would come to die.” It is a captivating beginning to the album and sets the tone for what follows.
On a Midnight Street is a mid tempo outing with a bouncy throbbing synth styling. This well tailored song lays out some universal truths; the need to make sure the world we hand those that follow has promise and beauty, secondly, we miss the simplicity of an earlier time due to the complexity of the modern age. Finally that you can hide from the world but it will find you. Hegarty’s vocals are the icing on the top making for an engaging listening experience.
The anathematic Temple is loaded with insistent strings and is highly reminiscent of Arcade Fire in a song rife with uplift and large hearted appeal. There is also a great Edge reverb guitar that makes for a stunning track. The song harkens to recalled memories and friendships and how they change through time. It also examines what we chose to remember and forget, “We were just lonely kids living a faded town.” On Elijah an acoustic guitar track provides an achingly evocative and bitter-sweet song. The track portrays someone struggling with confusion and inner demons. Hegarty’s falsetto is goosebump producing and underlines the poignancy of the lyrics. “Elijah you’re too young to be lost.” This song would blend seamlessly onto Sufjan Steven’s epic “Seven Swans” release, reminding me of “Abraham”. This is a “do not miss track” on the album.
Modern World’s sound reflects the surrounding Nashville vibe it was recorded amidst with its beautiful country inflection. The selection questions if anyone really know how to handle the modern world and how society’s goals for success are unattainable, “Part of the pack now there’s nothing you can bring, part of the ocean, a puppet on a string.” The song goes further in examining how we all set up a front we present to the world that hides the real person, “I couldn’t face it the modern world you can fake it, you can make it.” It is a prescient song.
Old Mastered is folk infused with a duel acoustic guitar accompaniment. This soaring song has a mellowed sepia beauty. Hegarty’s honeyed vocals are wondrously harmonic and warm. Mirrors features a slide guitar over synths with a beautiful reverb. It is ethereal and bright. The mid tempo song considered how the mirror reflects the passing of time, “my time is getting shorter, I see I am changing in a photograph”. Does the mirror reflect reality or what we want to see, it is all in the eye of the beholder. This song like the others is breathtakingly easy to admire.
Can’t You See is a ballad filled with poignancy as Hegarty proclaims his promise to his child. It a vow to always encourage, love and protect his child. The song is simple and to the point. “There’s a world that spins around you, and I won’t let them run you down.” Hegarty has a brilliant instinct for knowing when to put the petal to the medal vocally producing clear emotion that is especially moving on this track. The song ends with baby sounds allowing no confusion for whom he is making his promises.
The uptempo Gutter Heart has a great banjo effect over drums. It is another impressive track filled with good advice and prescient observations, “Sometimes I need the dark so I can see the light.” The song is solidly impressive and conveys so much feeling. The piano ballad Glacier is a crystalline poem that is hypnotic and breathtaking. Hegarty effortlessly vaults from a falsetto to his lower range in the song creating vocal alchemy. Matthew and the Atlas leave one of their best tracks for last, When the Light Hits the Water is a mesmerizing and scintillating track. The song speaks to those moments of beauty and pure happiness that can never last but are worth every second they exist. The song contemplates places filled with memories and having to re connect with them when some one seminal to those places and memories passes away. The song is dramatic and has the feel of setting off into eternity. It is perfectly paired to “Glacier” on the playlist.
In illuminating the ups and downs that make up life, Temple is a gorgeously brilliant release. The poignancy on many of the tracks can lead listeners through a cathartic journey of emotions. The accompaniment fits hand in glove with the beauty of the lyrics. Hegarty’s vocal interpretations of his songs are inspired and sung with a full devotion that at times seems to almost break his voice. The members of Matthew and the Atlas can take great pride in every aspect of the craftsmanship on this album; it is a stand out release that should not to be missed.