by Matthew Murphy
As indicated by its title and dissolute Parisian artwork, here the former Flying Saucer Attack member has created an album steeped heavily in spirits, both alcoholic and otherwise.
In 2003, Matt Elliott released The Mess We Made, the first album created under his own name after years of operation as Third Eye Foundation. Since then, the former member of Flying Saucer Attack and AMP has relocated from Bristol to France, a move which has evidently driven his spectral music ever deeper into the brine. As indicated by its title and dissolute Parisian artwork, Drinking Songs is an album steeped heavily in spirits, both alcoholic and otherwise. On these tracks, Elliott seems to address the world from the sunless interior of an absinthe glass, with his rarified instrumental arrangements serving as the only thin balm available to keep his subjects from capsizing hopelessly into the ink-black, fathomless depths.
Marinated in café piano, mournful strings, and delicate guitar, Drinking Songs follows The Mess We Made as another hard step away from the atmospheric jungle textures of Third Eye Foundation. Here Elliott has drawn further inspiration from Eastern European folk and cabaret music, his stately compositions achieving a melancholic drama similar to Tom Waits or the Bad Seeds at their most theatrically downtrodden. What frequently sets Elliott apart, however, are his cascading, impressionistic vocals, as on the sanguine "The Guilty Party", where his layered voices recede almost imperceptibly into the background until barely distinguishable from the rest of his quietly nodding solo orchestra.
As the album progresses, Elliott broadens his narrative scope from the relatively prosaic romantic miseries of "Trying To Explain" and "What's Wrong" to the epic tragedy of "The Kursk", which is based upon the sunken Russian submarine of the same name. Over Chris Cole's elegiac cello, a multi-tracked Elliott sings "The water is rising/ and we're slowly dying/ we won't see light again," sending loosened voices curling from every corner until their assembled force approximates a shadowy chorale rising as one from the seafloor. And though this 11-minute piece opens with various indistinct thunderstorm and shipwreck sound effects, Elliott handles the material with enough subtlety and melodic dexterity to avoid a descent into trite melodrama.
Likewise, Elliott displays a deft touch on "A Waste of Blood," a discreet anti-war track that may hint at the true core of the album's general despair. "The craters remain from the last time you came/ and seemingly our only crime/ was wrong place and wrong time," he sings, until once again his words are submerged by blurred strings and tape effects. The resulting discord leads quite naturally into the album's finale, "The Maid We Messed", an extended collage of deconstructed excerpts from the preceding seven songs. Across the album's sole programmed drum break, this track has the feel of a hungover man attempting to recreate the events of the previous evening, its scattered fragments of memory providing a suitably disorienting conclusion to Elliott's ethereal, unsettling collection.