It is time for me (and my collaborators) to buckle down and really work on posting, and where better for us to start than with Matthew Searles’ “Methodism” (25 May 2011). Independent artist and lead singer of Kobayashi, “Methodism” is a solo release, which Searles boasts as “old-skool beat-led electronica.” With that phrase, I think most people would immediately start thinking new wave, osinatos, and “cheap” electronic beeps all over the place that we love to listen to … but if that is all that you want, you are going to be disappointed. I think the “old-skool” here has more to do with music written around rhythm (beats), as opposed to sound effects, and if the music happens to be electronic, it is just so incidentally. That is, though Searles is producing music that is electronic, his goal is not to produce a synthpop or electropop album, let alone something to rave along to, but rather he uses an electronic medium to pen and produce music that is not confined to genre, medium, or a scene. And if that is not enough to entice you to listen, he covers The Kink’s “Lola” – priceless!
So let’s start with “Lola,” the fourth track on the album. Okay, I agree the song has been covered to death – every bar with a cover band will play this one by the end of the night to a not so sober crowd. The thing about this song is that whenever covered, you never escape the original, artists never own this song. Andy Taylor [of Duran Duran fame] could not escape the haunting presence of the original, nor could The Raincoats, and I shook my head “no no no no” when Madness did it. Actually, the only cover of this song that I really ever got into was by Mollies Revenge, which gave it a nice lesbian twist. Why have covers failed? Most people just never understood the song. This was never meant to be a happy, let’s go party song; quite the opposite, it is supposed to be riddled with anxiety and confusion, and Matthew Searles captures that in his voice and music – excellent cover, and this really demonstrates that Searles is not just creating passively, but really thinking.
Over and over, Searles is able to capture mood with voice and music. The following track, “Bounce,” veers into a slightly darker territory; “Stayed up late just to write this song, and by the sixth glass in, well it all went wrong,” Searles sings to beautifully, anxiously layered arrangements. Musically, he captures a sort of ambivalent indifference, while vocally a matter of fact disregard. “31 Flavours,” starting with a bit of gossip from a girl (a motif throughout the song), the song has opening lyrics that are reminiscent of The Cure’s “Shake Dog Shake” (“Wake up in the dark, the after-taste of anger in the back of my mouth…”); Searles sings along to a classic hip-hop underpinning, “Woke up with blood in my mouth, the bitterness pushed the flavour out.” Hefty words to start a song with, but Searles follows through with stream of consciousness, lyrical bombast from beginning to end, while composing a playful song accented by a warm piano. My favorite track on the album, the penultimate, is “Little Steps.” A playful dark wave number, with a vocal style right out of industrial music, this dichotomy mirrors the duality of many of the lyrical passages, like, “I want to disappear; just a little bit” or even “You want to fight, too tired to stand.”
I know nothing about Matthew Searles other than what I can deduce from his music. For instance, one thing that becomes very obvious is that Searles is a music lover … a fan of music, who cannot simply confine himself to one set of musical references. “Methodism” is a plethora of styles and themes that seemingly get woven together through slight sonic motifs from one song to another. But as the collection of songs continues, each song slowly changes form, leaving you with something very distinct at the end from the beginning. It is a sonic journey that flows with ease. And, Searles, if you are reading, I have questions to ask!
Keep up with Matthew Searles at his hoomepage. Head over to his Bandcamp site where you can preview and download “Methodism.”
Here is an audio clip of “Little Steps” from his Bandcamp site.