Review Summary: A stimulating piece of acoustic songwriting that flourishes more than it falters.
Matt Kivel is a quietly confident songwriter. His music is minimal by nature, driven by acoustic finger plucking that is more artful than it is masterful. In other words, he’s not out to prove that he is the most complex musician in the world, but he pours plenty of emotion into his work, which compensates for what can easily be perceived as a lack of variety. Striving for affect over ambition has its pros and cons, but it is this approach that accentuated the strengths of his debut Double Exposure
- and has led to an identically stimulating counterpart here. Days of Being Wild
once again employs a “less is more” philosophy, and the result is a sophomore release that is not at all immediate but might reward faithful listeners in the long run.
Kivel’s second album features a blend of lush acoustic guitars and simple percussive rhythms, occasionally washed over with an electronic glean. It’s a simple formula that has been executed by a number of different indie singer/songwriters, but the most successful ones have been able to stamp their music with some kind of defining style. Kivel does that here. A comparison that used to hover around his debut – and one that I find to be quite accurate – is Nick Drake. The way that he mumbles and blurs his lyrics without any apparent concern, and cleverly wraps elaborate metaphors around his words, is both comparable and admirable. Of course, Kivel only mirrors him in terms of style, not in terms of substance – which is where Days of Being Wild
inevitably discovers its glass ceiling.
So Matt Kivel might not be the next Nick Drake, fine. Still, he offers up some brilliant moments that should not be overlooked. Tracks like ‘Blonde Boy’, whose highlight is a soothing whistled verse, is one of those songs that is passively (and perhaps unknowingly) poignant. It creeps up on you with lazily strummed chords and a repetitive, desolate chorus of “I wonder where you are” before leading into the haunting, whistled serenade. It’s one of those songs that I imagine being played in a dimly lit room, while laying on the floor sifting through old photographs. It conjures a palpable sense of isolation, which is a motif that surfaces frequently within both of Matt Kivel’s first two records. The way in which ‘Little Girls’ and ‘Open Road’ interact is another clear highlight, shifting from a delicate acoustic arrangement to a far more dynamic and vibrant atmosphere. Interestingly, Kivel chooses to maintain a similar drum beat throughout both tracks, suggesting a possible relationship between them whilst simultaneously crafting one of his best transitions. Kivel toys with various tempo changes throughout Days of Being Wild
, but this is one of those instances in which the track-ordering just fell into perfect place, resulting in a seamless feeling for listeners.
Days of Being Wild
is such a personal album that each track’s success or failure, to a large extent, is tied to the listener’s interpretation of the atmosphere and the lyrics. Obviously this is true in some way for any album – as all
music is subjective – but Kivel’s minimal acoustic approach maximizes the shades of gray. On songs like ‘Blonde Boy’ (which features a very unique and recognizable trait), this is a wonderful thing because it allows one’s personal experiences to shape the song’s meaning. Unfortunately, so much of Days of Being Wild
is stripped almost entirely bare – often consisting of little more than a chord and a vocal melody. If the listener can’t relate to the lyrics – and there isn’t a distinguishing characteristic present in the song – then there is very little replay value. This presents an additional problem in itself because Kivel’s words aren’t easily decipherable while he is singing. Take a song like ‘The First Time’ (to name one of several samey-sounding tracks) and notice how the simplicity of the track actually detracts from it because there is a lack of variety in the chords and vocal inflections. There’s just not a whole lot going on…it’s pretty, in one ear out the other singer/songwriter music. And that’s exactly the kind of thing that Kivel needs to avoid, lest he become unrecognizable amongst an ever-growing genre of homogenous entities.
Days of Being Wild
is nothing more (or less) than an encore. It shares the stripped down qualities of its predecessor, at times endeavoring to become even less
accessible. Kivel is at no point interested in throwing big surprises at his listeners, which is a double-edged sword because his relaxed approach both defines his artistic style as well as puts a cap on its creativity. Strong lyrical content makes the light instrumental treading more captivating, but the album lives and breathes through its quiet, contemplative nature. Matt Kivel’s offering to his listeners is an unadulterated – even if rather simple – look at everyday life. Days of Being Wild
won’t ensnare your senses or make a concerted effort to win you over, which is okay. All you can do is just embrace it, listen to it, and hope that it grows on you.