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Wednesday, March 20, 2013

Matthew Heller - Invitation

Matthew Heller – Invitation
2013, Matthew Heller
Portland, Oregon’s Matthew Heller is set to turn perceptions of folk/rock upside down.  Like a man with two distinct personas, Heller jumps from protest song to personal confession/catharsis without warning.  Along the way, he brings a live and loud approach to the stage, and a songwriting style that eschews traditional boundaries and frameworks.  Heller’s debut album, Invitation, is a mighty flare of punk/folk/pop/rock goodness, rough edges and all.  Strap in, because it’s going to be a wild ride.
Heller kicks things off with “Father’s Son”, a dark and trouble rocker about filial recidivism.  The vibrant guitar accompaniment moves this song into high gear, while Heller’s unique voice convey and anguished approach to a life spent on the run.  “Space Girl” has more of a pop/rock orientation, and is written from the perspective of an eternally adolescent male.  Heller channels a bit of early Bowie here. Crawling in and out of the pop matrix as the mood strikes him.  Angular song construction and a willingness to expand on traditional pop structure make this an intriguing listen.  “Shake It” is punk roots-rock with a Dylan meets the Dead complex.  Heller writes stories in almost nonsensical allegory at ties, riven with psychedelic images and a teenager’s sex drive.
“Another Dose” could easily be a heavy rock song, but for the mostly acoustic arrangement offered here.  This quickly morphs into a pop/punk number that will have you shaking your hips and trying to sing along.  This is music you could spend a Saturday night dancing your cares away to.  Heller takes a break with “Interlude”, a gentle instrumental for piano and cello that’s surprisingly reserved and lovely.  Heller shows musical depth that speaks of good things to come.
“Howdy From Hades” is a reserved look at the effects of urban decay, drug addiction, poverty, etc.  The repetitive guitar arrangement seems to mimic the emotional desolation of being caught up in something you can’t live with but cannot escape.  The song is stark and memorable, and very marketable.  “Mercy” plays in the same desolate emotional playground, but this time has an autobiographical feel.  There is a hope of freedom here that is only to be found beyond the veil; a hope that becomes clear as the intensity of Heller’s guitar grows.  In “Man’s Prayer”, Heller shows off a rougher brand of songwriting.  Energy and emotion run through the song like electricity through a live wire, but Heller mashes words and music together at times in uncomfortable ways.
Heller gets back to his punk roots with the acerbically written “Drone Strike”.  He seems to find a special energy when gets into angular mode with his guitar, and that energy comes off of this tune in waves.  Just don’t try to stand still; you might hurt yourself.  Things quiet down a bit on “Jaclyn Of Spades”, a low key number full of quiet bluegrass licks and almost Zeppelin-esque deliberateness.  You could easily hear Robert Plant and company ripping up this number in a much louder and larger arrangement, but it works perfectly well as presented.  “Sink Or Swim” is a maudlin ballad that’s mildly pretty but feels a bit out of its element here.  It is a brief sidebar before Heller marches into the piano driven closer, “Dismay King”.  The low-fi presentation works well for Heller and the song is a solid bow with a positive message about keeping your chin up and moving forward.  This particular recording sounds more like a demo than a finished product, but Heller has definitely got something here.  The rough edges do not obscure the song’s distinctive pop pedigree; this one might help Heller find his way to the pop charts one day.
It’s always fun to follow Matthew Heller into a song.  Sometimes Heller goes right where you would expect him to, and others he takes you on unexpected twists and turns.  It’s all very musical and well constructed, but Heller’s musical perspective seems a bit unique.  Invitation has its rough edges, and occasionally revels in sophomoric ideas, but Heller’s originality and musicality are undeniable.  Invitation is very enjoyable for what it is, but perhaps more so for what it suggests for the future.
Rating:  4 Stars (Out of 5)

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