The first sound you hear on Matthewdavid’s debut album, Outmind, is a distorted human voice, which sounds as though it might be a plane’s captain announcing descent. “You are now listening to the awe-inspiring sounds of Los Angeles, California, looking down on the city scene, shrouded in heavy smog… sometimes you think, wow…” Yes, this instantly fulfils the criteria that all good hip-hop, instrumental or otherwise, should be fundamentally self-aggrandising, but the announcement also betrays the heady ambitions that lie behind creative process of Matthewdavid, aka Matthew McQueen. The awe-inspiring sounds of Los Angeles.
The truest chronicler of LA of the last century, Charles Bukowski, was frequently criticised for his extreme parochialism. His poems and novels refused to acknowledge, and sometimes refused to believe in, a world outside of America’s second-largest city, and at their worst were inaccessible, impenetrable, downright unintelligible, to those who didn’t know the city as Bukowski did. At their best, they built Los Angeles around their reader, reconstructed the city brick-for-brick, “sidewalk”-for-“sidewalk”, bringing with it all the city’s unsteady emotions and contradictions.
Outmind, it goes without saying, never quite reaches those heights in McQueen’s attempts to chronicle the awe-inspiring sounds of Los Angeles. That opening track, ‘Los Angeles is Beautiful’, does carry the threatening calm of a city about to wake up, awash with tape hiss and swirling ambience; swathed in reverb and dream-like electronica samples. It’s by some distance the most restrained 102 seconds on the album, flirtatiously promising something it never quite delivers, hinting toward a melody that you strain to hear but never quite will.
It’s a restraint that’s all too rare for the best part of the following half an hour. Not always to the record’s detriment, but not always to its credit either, McQueen throws every weapon in his considerable arsenal at these tracks, assaulting his listeners with a barrage of textures and samples. When it works, we’re left with the glorious ‘International’, a collaboration with Atlanta-based trance artist Dog Bite, which plays with cut up vocals and a clipped, stuttering rhythm section, recalling Panda Bear’s Person Pitch more readily than it does Flying Lotus or Sun Araw, who form the most obvious comparisons for most of the rest of the record. FlyLo’s own blink-and-you’ll-miss contribution to Outmind is ‘Group Tea’, a delicate 90-second cameo that forms a bridge between two of the album’s standout moments, the aforementioned ‘International’ and the dubstep-leaning ‘Like You Mean It’. It says a lot about the risks McQueen is willing to take with this album that his collaboration with the genre’s figurehead and label-owner is such a non-event, and that it’s buried away in between two of his own finest moments.
When it doesn’t work, and McQueen’s ambition gets the better of him, Outmind sounds like the work of a man with more ideas than he knows what to do with. ‘Today, Same Day’ is a nightmarish collision of what should have been three different songs, in which everything is fighting for a space and some room to breathe which it never finds. It’s hard to doubt that it adequately represents the sounds of Los Angeles, but pumping it into your own ears isn’t necessarily a pleasurable experience, artistically valid though it might be.
While most of the album proves to be rewarding in its complexity, some moments, ‘Today’ in particular, only become denser with time. But it’s worth battling with the record for those moments that reveal themselves through the swirls of sonic mist, like mirages in the California desert, as hazy, sun-stroked works of genius from a man whose talent may eventually match his ambition.