Independent Clauses | n. —unusual words about underappreciated music

Matthew Squires: A Unique Indie-pop Vision

February 9, 2017

Some artists are so idiosyncratic that they become required listening despite whether you like that style or not. Depending on their popular success, these people are the greats or the “songwriter’s songwriter.” I’m talking Kendrick Lamar, Beyonce, Leonard Cohen, Bob Dylan, Daniel Johnston, The Gorillaz: people who are doing their own thing with a very specific, easily identifiable creative vision. Matthew Squires has been developing a very distinct creative vision for a while now, and Tambaleo brings his fractured, angular, skeptically-but-knowledgably-religious indie-pop to new heights.

The main focus of these songs is Squires’ weary, slightly off-kilter tenor. It’s not your standard voice, even for that particular region of the indie-pop map which celebrates the atypical and imperfect. Squires’ voice rotates between being a spot-on melody maker (“Welcome”), a speak/sing drawl (“Sex & Tragedy”), a slurry dartboard (“Unwholesome Health”), and an onomatopoeic sound machine (“Grace’s Drum”). Sometimes it’s all of these in the space of a single song or even the space of a few lines. For some, the singing will be the reason for attendance; for others, it will be the price of admission. Whichever end of the spectrum you land on, it’s a distinct voice.

The arrangements here are also excellent. Packed full of instruments that seem to be taking their own path through the track at loping tempos, these individual performances come together to fill out Squires’ unique songwriting sensibility. Squires is endlessly inventive and not afraid to experiment with tones, textures, rhythms, and instrument pairings. This makes for songs that clang (“Dead or Dying”), skip along in a twee fashion [“Hosanna (Devotional #3)”], push along in a recognizably indie-pop manner (“Welcome”), and even get their pop-rock on … sort of (“Shape of Your Heart”). All of them have a left turn about every 20 seconds. Some albums keep you on your toes; this one will have you en pointe.

One of the most interesting things about Squires is his continued relationship with religion in his lyrics. Squires is well versed: like any honest religious person, there are moments of certitude, moments of doubt, and moments of skepticism in his relationship to religion. “Unwholesome Health” opens with “Judas was all alone / when he called me on the telephone / and told me about the pain he had caused / about Mary’s face when her Son was torn apart,” while “Welcome” closes with Squires speaking to himself: “You were named after a friend of the son of God / now bracket for a moment whether God exists or not / Have you been kind? / Have you been kind? / Have you been kind?” “Hosanna (Devotional #3)” wears the references on its titular sleeve, while other songs weave religious characters, terms and ideas through the lyrics more subtly. It treats religion as not something to be partitioned away from life, but woven all through it. I dig it.

Not every song on Tambaleo is independently majestic (“Debt Song” isn’t my favorite), but the whole collection is a deeply thoughtful, incredibly well-crafted album from a musician who is hitting his stride. This is the sort of album that not very many people could have made; a wild array of influences mesh into a idiosyncratic, deeply interesting album. Recommended.

Greg Buzzer: Electronica meets feudalism

January 17, 2016

Knight

The album art of a horseback-riding knight on a material flag was enough to pique my interest for Knight, but the 32-second-long intro of medieval monk-chanting confirmed I was listening to one of the most eccentric EPs I have ever heard. Greg Buzzer’s Knight cleverly combines thick-cut electronic textures with material you haven’t heard since the 12th century.

Bass, vibrato, and deep vocal pauses bestow upon Knight a Renaissance feel, while electronic aspects appear later in the songs, such as the house beat in “Rise Water.” The sound of a chain clanking tugs and weighs on the percussive beast, adding a gritty, metallic lag to the tempo. For as deep and masculine as the vocals are, they fare lightly, resulting in Buzzer sounding like a singing, railway-working, grave-digging ghost. His vocals are like the lightweight, impenetrable armor Kate the blacksmith makes for Heath Ledger in  A Knight’s Tale.

Speaking of A Knight’s Tale, I imagine the track “Knight” to be the pump-up song before Heath Ledger slams down his armor and raises his lance in the final jousting battle against his nemesis. The unexpected string section in the military drumline of “All the Vultures” instills a similar fiery determination and excitement. And the last track, “Oven,” as well — it hauls a serious heaviness, but adds an exotic Eastern flair with the sound of belly dancers clinking their brass finger cymbals.

“Slave to my VoDoO” has a rough, kids-I-never-hung-out-with-but-admired sensibility that reminded me of The Gorillaz. Guitar plucking and subtly-accented vocals give it an all-American, bluesy twang — an O Brother, Where Art Thou? vibe, if you will.

With phrases like, “Mother, can you hear me? / I think I got lost in the dead space / help me remember the earth,” “Mother” presents a series of attention-demanding lyrics and a battle-time drumline that gives way to a synth vortex. It sounds like a crusade of knights is about to fight an army of extraterrestrial beings.

Knight is the uncensored, enrapturing battle between musical elements from a feudal age and modern-day rock-n-roll-inspired electronica. Greg Buzzer is the rock-n-roll King Arthur. —Rachel Haney

Stephen Carradini and friends write reviews of bands that are trying to make the next step in their careers.

Recent Posts

Independent Clauses Monthly E-mail

Get updates and information about IC, plus opportunities for bands.
Band name? PR company? Business?
* = required field

powered by MailChimp!

Archives