wears the trousers magazine

matteah baim: laughing boy (2009)
April 17, 2009, 8:04 pm
Filed under: album, mp3, review | Tags: , , , ,


Matteah Baim
Laughing Boy •••

Matteah Baim has come a long way since purchasing her first guitar in a basement pawn shop somewhere in her hometown of Milwaukee. An itinerant youth led her to art school in San Francisco at 17 where she formed prevailing friendships with the likes of Devendra Banhart and Sierra Casady of CocoRosie (with whom she would later form Metallic Falcons). Now firmly based in New York, for the past few years Baim has been making dark and slightly grungy music with a heavy Doors influence and a mystical sensibility. Laughing Boy, her second post-Falcons solo album, sees her continuing to experiment with offbeat short stories and dramaturgical sounds.

Opener ‘Pagoda’ sets out her stall with enticing strings that hover around singular notes as Baim’s soft vocals enter concurrently with electric guitar in an abstract, canon-like pattern. Her voice is calm and layered, cherishing those close harmonies, and the different rhythmic and melodic patterns that weave through the song create a flow of atmospheric arrangements. But with so much going on in the instrumentation, the vocals almost seem out of place. A recurring theme elsewhere on the album is the introduction of short patterns, notably on the bass-driven ‘He Turned My Mind Around’ (which lifts its lyrics from Native American poems and songs, hence the sleeve picturing Baim sat beneath a portrait of a chieftain, trying to match his impassive stare) and the 30-second rush of tambourine that supposedly represents ‘Moths On Fire’.

Baim is clearly in possession of an artistic mind, and it’s a mindset that transpires through an awkward theatricality in her music. This works well in songs like ‘Black Beads’, in which she takes elements of blues and marries them with electronic sounds and a single viola. ‘Orange Juice Guitar’ also embraces this theme but is more of an idea at just under two minutes long. ‘Big Cat’ is a great example of the effects of dramatisation in a song, with strings and electric guitar intertwining effortlessly, while on other songs, like the comparatively epic ‘Birthdays’, this authentic touch sadly gets a little lost. The arrangements are interesting and varied, but the percussion seems too present and the vocals too precise against such a complex backdrop. ‘Wilderness’ feels similarly distracting, though it has a more mysterious feel. The preceding cover of The Doors’ ‘Bird Of Prey’ takes a virtually a cappella route with Baim pulling in friends to form a peculiarly dissonant choir.

On occasion, Baim’s instrumentals prove to be the most compelling factor and you wonder if perhaps they would be more effective without the vocals, which, as tender as they are, could probably be a bit more decisive. Nevertheless, there are moments of brilliance on Laughing Boy and it all stacks up as an enjoyably noirish exploration of the complexities of being human.

Anja McCloskey
UK release date: 31/03/09; www.myspace.com/matteahbaim


FREE MP3: Matteah Baim, ‘Pagoda’


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[…] [Dan Everett 15/6] 35 Laura Gibson – Beasts Of Seasons [Martyn Clayton 15/4] 36 Matteah Baim – Laughing Boy [Anja McCloskey 17/4] 37 Gossip – Music For Men [Scott Sinclair 23/6]  38 Lady Sovereign – […]

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