After already establishing himself in the UK and the US, releasing two EPs and being the first signing to the now mainstay label Communion, this debut full length album from Matthew and the Atlas, aka Matt Hegarty, has most definitely been a long time coming.
Other Rivers is not a wet behind the ears, fresh faced debut. Matthew’s voice is in fact the opposite of anything remotely newborn; gravelly, deep, and the glorious consistency of honey, it’s a weather-beaten, worn in leather jacket of a voice. In his early EPs it took centre stage, with a predominantly acoustic backing. Other Rivers marks a definite change in his approach, moving away from the humble acoustic, and more towards an electronic and rhythm based composition, building layers of sound, piqued with subtle beats and breaks.
There is no immediacy to Other Rivers, no fanfare or anything that instantly demands attention. Instead, it’s an album that the terms ‘slow-burn’ and ‘a grower’ were invented for. Shimmering into existence with “Into Gold”, a warm, still, sun-drenched track that shines in and out with almost a capella vocals, rising to a banjo and tambourine led middle eight, before sinking into the horizon.
The dramatic peak of “Pale Sun Rose” has the slightly disorientated feel that Villagers do so well, with interweaving melodies and a busy, clustered sound. One of the examples of the new directions MatA has gone in, it’s followed, by contrast, by “To the North”, a reworking of an older track that drops back down to an acoustic, sparser feel, with the yearning, upward reaching vocals that were so present in earlier recordings.
The unexpected major chords of the predominantly minor “Out of Darkness” along with discordant strings, and a regulatory drum machine backing makes this one of the most dramatic pieces on the album, in a swirl of mystery and tumultuousness. The juxtaposition of dark, wistful lyrics, written plainly and cleanly, with an uplifting, rabble-rousing melody becomes more apparent later on in the album, in particular “Everything That Dies”, with the mantra ‘you said everyone you know, one day ill surely die/but everything that dies in some way returns’ transforming it from what starts a gospel-esque melody into an electronic backed epic chorus.
“Other Rivers” lives up to its name to a tee. From the meandering early tracks, to the gushing, rushing later sounds of “Nowhere Now” and “Old Ceremony”, it’s a journeying album with a sense of movement throughout. Whilst lyrically, there’s a strong thread of longing and the past, musically, it’s constantly moving forwards, and after MatA’s somewhat leisurely start, it’s nice to see this promising progression.