...more sad and reflective than seething or abstract.
Paul Clarke 2008-05-30
Although he sounds like neither, it's quite revealing to learn that John Matthias is an associate of both Thom Yorke and Matthew Herbert, the former of whom he met at Exeter University before later contributing violin to Radiohead's The Bends, whilst the latter collaborated on Matthias'debut LP, Smalltown, Shining on Herbert's Lifelike label. For what this singer-songwriter shares with both is a despair with the intellectual debasement of Western society, something Yorke communicated in the The Eraser's dense electronica and Herbert with his creative use of samples on albums like Plat Du Jour.
Yet what Matthias conveys in electronically-tinged folk-rock feels more sad and reflective than seething or abstract. In terms of lyrical themes, Stockwell Road takes a similar approach to Yorke's Harrowdown Hill, focusing upon a real-life news story – in this case the shooting of Jean Charles de Menezes – as part of a wider picture questioning the morality of the 'War On Terror'. But it's also a touchingly personal song as well, made more so by the simplicity of the sparse piano over which Matthias sings about walking the innocent man's steps every morning.
It's also more affecting than the other most overtly political song One Sunny Morning In The No-Fly Zone, where some of the imagery about bombs and Britney Spears is a little heavy-handed. Indeed, its Matthias' lightness of touch that makes for the album's most memorable moments, for he's far better at plaintive acoustic ballads like Evermore than he is at rockier tracks such as Blind Lead The Blind. Like Tuung, Matthias might colour his music with slight electronic shades, provided in here by album producers Coldcut, yet his songs are firmly in the folk story-telling tradition even when they're about resolutely contemporary concerns, be it the man determined to drive out a trendy Londoner in King Of A Small Town or the credit crunch in Viper’s Nest. But perhaps the song that says the most about Songs From The Watercooler is Stocktaking, being a beautifully melodic yet understated tune about a busker who, just like this album, doesn’t really fit in anywhere.