Review Summary: A message in a bottle
It is with his guitar and to the sound of brass instruments and accordion that characterize the folk movement as well as all the melancholy that comes with it that Matt Elliott, singer/ songwriter/ performer of the self-named group, takes us, sometimes literally, deep down into the abyss of Drinking Songs. Dark from the beginning to the end, the album highly benefits from the homogeneity of its components: already back in 2005, Elliott is at a stage where he is fully aware of its capabilities and its limitations, both musically and in terms of the writing of his songs, which consist for the most part of short but visually rich poems. The first track, entitled CF Bundy, is made of some four lines sung rather subtly in a voice that reflects a deep lamentation:
Face down & f*cked again
Taste of blood again
Know that you three
were the last thing that I've seen
And never, during the 1:15 that lasts Drinking Songs, will Matt Elliott rise up, constantly overwhelmed by the torments that we share a little more with him as he leaves more and more room to his vocals and as the album progresses. In the second song, Trying To Explain, it is with a much deeper voice, almost incomprehensible, that Elliott gives life to a grotesque character we imagine mumbling his pint to the bottom of a warm wet tavern. Then comes The Guilty Party, in which Elliott, opting for a more acute sound both on guitar and on piano, plays on a rainy background, adding texture to the piece. After the fourth track, What’s Wrong, perhaps the definition of folk itself as the accordion joins Elliott in his eternal gloomy singing, the table is set for one of the major pieces of the album. Because even if the climate of distress is already well established, it is with 11 minutes long The Kursk that Elliott confirms his writing talents, he who tells the story of a crew being found trapped in a Russian submarine (K-141 Kursk) after an explosion, back in the early 2000’s. Although several sailors perished on the spot, there is evidence that some of the men on board had survived several hours or even a few days with no light in the depths of the sea. The music, which begins with the sound of what appears to be the explosion itself, gives way to the beautiful guitar of Matt Elliott who, with a voice that contains the misery of a whole crew, requires only a few lines long repeated, almost to the like a choir formed of the shipwrecked, to lead us by the side of the mariners:
It's cold I'm afraid
It's been like this for a day
The water is rising and slowly we're dying
We won't see light again
We won't see our wives again
On a different level, the same depressive atmosphere remains for the two songs that follow, What The F*uck Am I Doing On This Battlefied? and A Waste Of Blood which complete in an honest way the dark folk frame then staged in Drinking Songs which, at this moment, could take an end and leave more than satisfied anyone who recognize the beauty that lies in a sad and depressing music (think here Low, for example). Elliott does not stop there. The Maid We Messed, final piece of the album, stands out by its entirely instrumental 20 minutes and by the addition of electronic elements in its composition. We almost regret that the artist had not ventured there earlier; the electro-percussions married to the piano is a surprisingly effective mix, and Elliott reaches an intensity on this track that remained unseen beforehand in Drinking Songs. If the rest of the album takes place in the depths of a ship’s hold, The Maid We Messed represents the hurricane raging outside.
Undeniably in control of his art, Matt Elliott has made of Drinking Songs a beautiful and touching letter left in a bottle, within the reach of every lone sailor, the time of a storm.