July 19, 2003

Matt Elliott "The Mess We Made"

Matt Elliott is a man who makes complicated music. His track record includes a stint in Flying Saucer Attack--perhaps one of the loudest, noisiest bands of the 1990s. When he left the band, he formed Third Eye Foundation, which dropped the guitar noise in favor of cold, aloof electronic beats, blips and noise. He released several albums--often to wide critical acclaim--until last year, when he retired the moniker. So it should really come as no surprise that Elliott's solo debut The Mess We Made is an album of cold post-electronica soundscapes, and is both a departure from--and a conitnuation of--the music he's made over the past decade.

Why, then, is The Mess We Made somewhat disappointing? It's simple, really. Random thoughts and musical ideas thrown together doth not a cohesive album make. The music is certainly pretty enough, and there are plenty of interesting ideas--personally, I like the idea of mixing piano with electronica--but they just do not seem to come together. The songs are a little too long, with a few too many ideas in each one--stylistic shifts are great, but when you rely on them, it's a bit messy. Give Elliott credit for trying to make a more "organic" sound; he does introduce some ideas worth exploring, even if the album itself seems to be a cuttered mess.

The only song that stood out after repeated listens was "The Sinking Ship Song." This is one of the most haunting compositions I've ever heard. It's a sea shanty, but...it's a sea shanty that sounds like a group of sailors on the way to their death. (It's also the only song with printed lyrics; if it weren't for that, you wouldn't understand a word of what is being sung). The singing is tempered with samples of a rainstorm, wind blowing, and creaking wood. As the song progresses, the wind grows stronger, the singing becomes more and more faint, until all you're left with is a distant, fading song that is overpowered by the wind. It's extremely spooky, it's quite disturbing, and it's utterly beautiful.

The Mess We Made, though at times quite pretty, is not an easy listen. It's very challenging, thought-provoking music that might not click with some listeners. It's downbeat, dreary, and sad; as cliched as it might be to say it, you'd probably need a whole heap o' drugs to really appreciate what it is he's doing. Elliott's a talented, ingenious man who has an itch for composition; his Third Eye Foundation records are certainly in a league of their own. The Mess We Made simply extends on Elliott's more experimental ideas, even if they'res not entirely satisfying. Kind of like Third Eye Foundation.

--Joseph Kyle

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