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Music Review: Hegarty releases three decades of work

Amanda Nieto
Special to the Campus Times

Matt Hegarty and his five-piece band, Matthew and the Atlas, released their long anticipated debut album “Other Rivers,” an album that is said to be 30 years in the making.

Released Tuesday, “Other Rivers” is not the typical freshman album. Hegarty’s weather-worn and aged vocals, coupled with tracks filled with resonating emotions, make a 30 year developing period plausible.

The album was recorded toward the end of 2013 at Squarehead Studios in Kent, and it was produced with the help of Kevin Jones, band member of Bear’s Den and cofounder of Communion, as well as Story Books’ Kristofer Harris.

Matthew and the Atlas were one of the first signings with Communion, an artist led music label that focuses on songwriters and musicians. Matthew and the Atlas released two EPs with Communion, “To the North” in March 2010 and “Kingdom of Your Own” in November later that year.

However, his pub-drenched previous work is no more. With two EPs that are distinctly folk, it is a bit startling to find their album lacking banjos and acoustic harmonies, to instead be replaced with synthesized bass lines and electronic backbeats.

It may be hard to understand how an electronic folk pop album can develop slowly, but this one does. This leisurely progression is by no means unwelcome because like an unexpected adventure, elements and complexities constantly surface.

“Into Gold” is the opening track befitting the journey. Hegarty’s heavy vocals reach out like a sunrise as he chants, “that old dirt road, it turned gold.” Like with the rising sun there is an anticipated build that is gently held with electric chords and acoustic beats.

Their single “Pale Sun Rose” then starts with a quick acoustic picking. An electronic beat is soon added alongside Hegarty’s honey whiskey voice. Just enough of the past work is kept alive with the vocals and acoustic elements, making the new experimental instruments more welcome and appropriate.

“To the North” then follows with lyrics longing for home. The longing creates a loneliness, but this is offset by the harmonies that reassure there is hope in other times and places.

Themes displayed here are carried throughout the album with melancholy words and nostalgic feelings that are always tinged with hope.

The album may be considered by some as a slow-burner, but the beauty behind the album is that it is not demanding. Subtle lyrics and steady beats equally share in the potent silent breaks.

The standout piece of the album rests with “Everything That Dies.” “You said everyone you know one day will surely die/ but everything that dies in some way returns,” Hegarty sings for the chorus.

There is a simplistic power behind the song by taking what should be mournful and coating it in a steadfast optimism. What is then achieved is the sense that death can be overshadowed by the possibility of resurrection.

On “A Memory of You” Hegarty sings, “I recall a time when you lost your mind and you seemed so small/ but that was years ago.” The regret filled lyrics border on passive with the understanding that what is finished cannot be redone. The song ends unsatisfied with only a memory of what was once.

In an interview with Folk Radio UK, Hegarty stated his inspiration for “Old Ceremony” was to follow the ebb and flow of a relationship.

Like the giving and taking in a relationship, the instrumentation operates the same. It is at this point the union between acoustic and electric is complete.

Matthew and the Atlas elegantly offer a decadent treat with a robust soul, and it is only the start.

Amanda Nieto can be reached at amanda.nieto@laverne.edu.

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