Mat Sweet’s Boduf Songs is an act that has seemingly undergone very little evolution in its half-decade existence. Still ostensibly a one-man band, still recorded largely in Sweet’s own studio/bedroom, still churning out long, slow-burning songs that focus as much on atmosphere as they do on melodies, it’d be easy to criticise Sweet for a lack of ambition that has seen him occupy a quiet, comfortable niche and expand very little beyond. It’d be an easy, in many ways true, and in many ways a fair criticism, though one that almost wilfully misses the point of Boduf Songs entirely.
Sweet’s devotion to the atmosphere and feel of his music is uncompromising, right down to the beautifully crafted artwork that has accompanied all four records so far. The moment you put the figurative needle into the groove of any Boduf album, you’re essentially entering into a contract with Mat Sweet, whereby failure to accept his terms is failure to enjoy the music. Our reactions to music, art and literature is governed by the presence of personal bias and subjective experience, something Sweet has always appeared painfully aware of. Which is why This Alone Above All Else In Spite of Everything takes pains to not simply provide a soundtrack to an appropriate atmosphere, but to create that atmosphere entirely unto itself, from the opening clumsily played piano to the closing feedback, each and every minute of the forty on display here is crafted to pull you into the Boduf world.
Kranky Records’ website writes of the previous Boduf album, How Shadows Chase the Balance, that “if you listen closely you can still hear small bits of rain hitting the window, and cars sliding by on wet roads”. The point is that to highlight the lo-fi-ness of the production is to do Sweet a huge disservice, because of the baggage the comes with the term “lo-fi”. In most circles, it tends to mean, “couldn’t be arsed with production”. Here, the production efforts aren’t focussed on slickness, but on increasing the listener’s engagement with the record. For example, during the seven-minute ‘Decapitation Blues’, a highlight of sorts, Sweet’s semi-whispered vocal becomes obscured under waves of noise, but it only makes his inscrutable lyrics all the more enticing and interesting. The ambient noises could well be the sound of boning foxes outside his Southampton home, but then we’re still left wondering if he put them there intentionally, and why? In one word, This Alone is “mysterious”, and not in the tedious “Lost” way of just refusing to tell you stuff for the hell of it. I find myself listening to This Alone with a real and exciting sense of intrigue and exploration, and strangely for a Boduf Songs album, I find myself having genuinely no idea where it is going to go next. Some tracks, like the opener, ‘Bought Myself a Cat O’ Nine Tales’, simmer threateningly for five minutes, but back down somewhere along the line, while others, such as the blinding ‘They Get on Slowly’, explode with an unpredictable menace and rage.
It’s not easy and it won’t be for everyone, but in expanding his musical palette – he introduces more or less a full-band set up – Sweet has created the first essential Boduf Songs album, an intelligent and dense album that’s as rewarding as it is terrifying.