Review Summary: Fanfare for the domestic.
Affirmation is fanfare for the domestic. A short and gorgeous record, Matt Douglas tells the story of a lover, contemplating marriage, cautious at the crossroads. Each track is named after a different imagined emotional state of the decision, as if getting hitched followed rules the way our grieving process does. In reality, Douglas’ music does not delineate the feelings: these songs argue, they get stressed, and sometimes a joy so pure and careless it’s frightening washes over them. These things arrive together; Affirmation is subtitled With Discomfort because discomfort is with it all the way.
Sounds corny, but that’s good: this is experimental music done kinda off the cuff, without a fuss, not needing much more than it has. A dude who plays woodwinds really well doing that to a decent storybook: it’s all Affirmation needs to be utterly brilliant. Douglas uses his odd textural template with some sorta equilibrium of intensity and nonchalance; he’s weird on the downlow, emotional in waves, his instrumentation a gorgeous cohabitation of high-octane romance and quiet nuance. It sounds invitingly lyrical, but free jazz is living here too; so is Steve Reich. The blocky harmonies, the staccato rhythms and the misery-puncturing key changes make for a record that’s constantly riding towards something, be it in cruise control or blind rage; the commitment does not so much come at the end as it does in a series of moments, like the word YES scrawled next to its friend NO in different boxes of a spreadsheet.
It’s so beautiful and by the way do you like The Mountain Goats, ‘cos this guy plays back-up for them. He made Goths the wonderful thing it was and while he wasn’t on Transcendental Youth, I can hear it living in this album: it's the same blue nighttime weather and deeper-than-devastated loneliness. Mostly though I just love the way his horns get tangled: they play their own melody, their own song, at the same time, not contradicting one another but simply living simultaneously, separate thoughts working themselves out in one headspace.