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John Matthias - Stories From The Watercooler

John Matthias, Stories From The Watercooler

Review by Jack Foley

IndieLondon Rating: 4 out of 5

JOHN Matthias is an artist you should rush to get acquainted with. He’s prolific in his own right, even though he may not be the name on everyone’s lips at the moment.

He contributed violin to Radiohead’s The Bends through having known Thom Yorke since university, and then went on to work with the maverick Matthew Herbert and released his debut album, Smalltown Shining on Herbert’s Accidental Records.

Since then, he’s also featured on Coldcut’s last album, Sound Mirrors, from which his contribution to Man In A Garage helped it to become one of the LP’s lead singles. It’s those distinct vocals, put together with his passion for storytelling and musical diversity, that help to make his latest album, Stories From The Watercooler, such a rich listen.

Essentially, the album is a suite of 12 short stories rendered in song form. Their basic template is classic folk-rock and he combines acoustic and electric guitar with strings to stirring, and often emotive, effect.

The topics, too, are wide-reaching, taking in everything from the shooting of Jean Charles De Menezes to fake alternative therapies, credit ratings and telephone banking, and boxing and Japanese internment camps in California to bombs with the face of Britney Spears painted on.

Instrumentally, it’s nicely layered with harmoniums, banjos, clarinets and mono synths, as well as an electronic complexity that’s born from his experimental work wiht Coldcut, who produced the album.

You kind of know you’re in for something a bit special from the beginning. Album opener Open kicks off with a wonderfully addictive acoustic guitar loop and some slick beats, before dropping those wonderfully dusky vocals. You’ll immediately be reminded of those Man In A Garage vocals. But just when you think you have the measure of it, there’s a cracking flute winding its way in and out as the track reaches its close.

Viper’s Nest combines folk and blues to suitably satisfying effect, while the electronic influence begins to creep in on the haunting I Will Disappear – a swirling effort that boasts a nicely ethereal quality. The guitar work and back beat are particularly engrossing.

Later on, Blind Lead The Blind offers a slightly more uptempo highlight, laying down a catchy chorus and some electric guitar licks and synth stabs that give it extra edge.

Spinnaker trades on a funky bassline, before Stocktaking ushers us back into laidback folk territory for another sultry listen of everyday toil.

Evermore, meanwhile, is a winning combination of folk, blues and country that slowly works its way into your memory and refuses to budge. Final tracks It’s Not and One Sunny Morning In The No-Fly Zone ensure that the album comes to a suitably impressive close.

So, while the idea of yet another folk-based singer-songwriter and storyteller might not be immediately appealing, you’ll be mightily impressed with the musical journey that it takes you on. Stories From The Watercooler comes highly recommended.

Download picks: Open, Blind Lead The Blind, Viper’s Nest, I Will Disappear, Stocktaking, Evermore, One Sunny Morning In The No-Fly Zone

Track listing:

  1. Open
  2. Vipers’ Nest
  3. I Will Disappear
  4. Police Car
  5. Blind Lead The Blind
  6. Stockwell Road
  7. Spinnaker
  8. Stocktaking
  9. King Of A Small Town
  10. Evermore
  11. It’s Not
  12. One Sunny Morning In The No Fly Zone