It seems like decades ago I featured a promising track by a relatively unknown folk artist who went by the pseudonym Matthew And The Atlas. In reality, it's only been a hand full of months and since the discovery of that little gem, I've been eagerly anticipating the release of Matthew's début full length album. Other Rivers is officially released on Monday and will likely be the start of a busy Spring for Matt and his live band as they hit the road in support of the release. But is it all any good? Well, I can answer that for you in one word.
I can also answer that in two words.
Let's say you heard the 2010 EP To The North and thought to yourself: this is all very good, but it's just another melancholy foray into the expansive world of folksy music that over-saturated the music scene in the early 21st Century, making the whole thing very good, but largely overlooked. Firstly, bravo you for being aware of current musical trends, give yourself a pat on the back! Secondly, slap yourself in the face for being so dismissive.
From the opening song "Into Gold", it's startlingly apparent that Matt has become very aware of the sound available to him through his unique voice and song writing prowess. For me, the track opens us up to the three main themes of the album - your first theme being the rhythm and synth sections. The percussion drives the track without ever being intrusive and offers subtle hints at what will later become key parts of tracks like "Out Of The Darkness" and "To The North", this is folk music evolved, it capitalises on pioneers like Bon Iver and pushes the boundaries of what "folk" music even means any more.
Next up you have the intricate interplay of the string section. On almost every track the listener is treated to guitars awash with spacey reverb and crisp, cutting banjo or plucked acoustic to remind you that, at the heart of it all, the roots here are firmly planted in folk. "Pale Sun Rose" and "A Memory Of You" both benefit from this entity and it's a real pleasure to hear. Hegarty knows how to harness the power of understated instrumentation, proven consistently throughout the ten tracks on the album.
This brings us to our final, and arguably most important, defining factor of the album. Matthew Hegarty himself. I've said it before in our song features, but the guy has a very strong vocal identity. If you cut out everything else, all the instrumentation and production, just one guy and a guitar, all these songs would still hold up purely on the vocal performance. On album closer "Another Way", Communion label mate Matt Corby has been enlisted to provide some breathtaking falsetto vocals that entwine perfectly with Hegarty's earthy tone.
This album, to me, is an incredible feat. Something that Matt Hegarty can be infinitely proud of. The only real problem he faces is topping Other Rivers with the next album. This is an absolute must listen for anybody with even a passing interest in honest, emotive and sincere music.