An ambitious second LP from the Leeds band, mixing electronica with soul and strings.
Mike Diver 2011
Leeds-formed outfit Stateless have taken significant stylistic strides into new territories on this, their second long-player following 2007’s well-received self-titled disc for then-label !K7. While elements of electronica have always been present, said debut also saw the band attract comparisons to Coldplay and Doves – acts whose flirtations with synths are typically secondary to their preference for guitar anthems. But Matilda’s a different beast entirely, something that becomes obvious from its first few seconds.
Curtain Call opens with almost a minute of drone and chatter, like the inner-workings of a Tron machine trying to come online to conquer the real world. Then a morose, Morricone guitar rings out, before fading away beneath a synthetic pulse and Chris James’ lead vocal: "Won’t you come sit here by the fire with me? / Tell me your stories, the places you’ve been." It’s a warmly organic beginning – one smashed apart come the three-minute mark when low-end elements charge the composition. It’s electrifying stuff, and across six minutes the track flits between poles of bass-heavy crackle and Muse-like grandiose-pop.
But it doesn’t set a tone that’s wholly maintained – and that’s both the beauty and the irritation of Matilda. It’s an album that tries to do too much in too little time, splitting itself into two halves of static’n’bass and strings’n’sighs, the midpoint dividing line a gentle instrumental called (appropriately) Red Sea, which loops itself beautifully like a lost passage from the Riceboy Sleeps LP. At its very best this is an album that utterly envelops. The Shara Worden-aided I’m on Fire is a mesmerising duet, dizzy with desire and alcohol and featuring lyrics that would melt the coldest heart: "The rest of the world could disappear / And I wouldn’t care." Visions and Ariel paint Darkstar-style post-dubstep motifs across powerful RnB vocals, which would sound (even more) amazing with someone like John Legend fronting them (just imagine: great, isn’t it?); and Junior melds melancholic soul with understated strings to great effect.
Song for the Outsider doesn’t solder its strings – provided throughout by the Balanescu Quartet – to the electronic elements in place, and as such sounds rather half-finished compared to better examples of sonic stitching around it. It, along with the fairly generic (and poor-of-lyric) Assassinations, represents a moment when Stateless’ ambition isn’t matched by their ability. But with so much good here, it’s foolish to dwell upon a few relative missteps.