Sunday, June 8, 2014

"All things digested have a similar hue"

The Music of Matt Berry

Having released his first two albums himself, Matt Berry made his third long player Witchazel available for a one-day free download in 2009 before receiving a wider release via Acid Jazz two years later.

INFUSED with a WICKER MAN-like Englishness, the music and lyrics of Bedfordshire-born Matt Berry consistently astounds. With comedic star turns in GARTH MARENGHI'S DARKPLACE and THE IT CROWD, his acting roles often see him flesh-out a unique vocal range, which has resulted in a lucrative side career in voice-overs. It’s a rich, womanising tone that strikes as if some noble medieval player is recounting adventures in his twilight days. Influenced by late 60s/early 70s psych-rock, Berry avoids pure tribute or pastiche by an immersion with wind-swept landscapes and askew texts. Inspired by Mike Oldfield, Berry has realised his childhood dream by playing almost everything on his albums bar drums, sax and clarinet. The actor/musician has also produced a series of idiosyncratic tunes which has lined everything from his undervalued BBC3 dark comedy SNUFF BOX to the spot-on JESUS CHRIST SUPERSTAR parody AD/BC: A ROCK OPERA and compositions for Steve Coogan's SAXONDALE.

Berry's Opium album, released in 2008, defies description; built loosely around the concept of what goes through the mind of a Hangman, it is rich in sound bytes from SNUFFBOX and has some memorable macabre boasts ("All things digested have a similar hue"). In contrast Witchazel is an enchanting psych-folk masterpiece, benefiting from a sound that is progressive without relying on the overblown pomposity that came to be associated with the sub-genre during the 70s. 2013's Kill the Wolf - taking its title from English folklore that demands a ritual wolf sacrifice for any "evil" communial happening - continues Witchazel's pastoral journey but with a more bleached-out palate. Equally evocative, the opening track 'Gather Up' is a mesmerising circular chant that draws the listener out of modern meltdown into the natural world; and the nine minute centrepiece 'Solstice' is an epic of Pink Floyd proportions, a two-part progression awash with guitar solos, clarinet and harpsichord.

Sporting a cover painted by Berry, Music For Insomniacs is a slow-building composition of calm.

Recorded during pre-dawn sessions at his London flat before Kill the Wolf, Berry's two-tiered, 45-minute electronic patchwork Music For Insomniacs was released on the 19th of May (in fact, the first movement ends with a programmed sequence that would go on to become Kill the Wolf’s 'October Sun.') Taking in his beloved Oldfield and anything from Brian Eno and Jean Michel Jarre to Aphex Twin, the album negates his recent prog-folk preferences to create an ambient piece that aims to "colour your dreams." Partly recorded during actual bouts of insomnia, the work patiently evolves with numerous synths, pianos, woodwinds and found-sounds which includes babies crying and a creaking door taking on the gravitas of some giant wooden hull. Such experimental self-indulgence may provide a jolt to devotees eager for the next Witchazel, but as Berry has stated on his website, "if the experiment is successful, you shouldn’t remember it."