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Mattress - Eldorado

Mattress - Eldorado

by , 21 September 2011

The enfant terrible for every musician is the genre label. As I’m sure I have gone over before, the idea of categorization based on sonic factors has all but become an element of musical artistry that has become all but a pure parody of it. From the thousand and one subtypes of noise (power electronics vs. harsh vs. psych vs. free etc.) to the need to call anything with a hint of tape noise “lo-fi [other existing genre]” the manner of calling sound “music” has fallen to the wayside in favour of the fervour of legitimacy through propagation. In a move that would make Deleuze and Guattari blush, we as listeners and consumers have over codified the territories of musical output and meaning. Do we still need a fifteenth iteration of synth pop? Do we as listeners need to worry if the latest James Blake track to drop is neo-soul-post-dubstep or can we just call it pure expression and accept that? Must we search for a Damien Hirst to pickle the Rolling Stones and call it “zombie rock” or did The Mummies do that already?

Portland-based musician Mattress might be the next victim of severe labelling, as his music has always been distinctly rooted in the tonality of Suicide and the yelping calls of Arto Lindsay, channelled through a fervour and sense of actual ennui that only the worried can conjure. Given his moniker, the nervy music generated through built-in Casiotone drum loops and four-note-maximum bass lines is the opposite of the purpose of a bed – rest and relaxation break away to reveal unrest, unease, and discontent even when speaking of finding meaning and value to the experience of being. Now with an ambiguously sized release in Eldorado, which at 21’11” could be an EP, a mini-LP, or an LP depending on who you ask, the music of Rex Marshall seems to have found its niche as severely damaged chansons. Marshall’s voice is what makes Mattress stand out, and with a booming, over-the-top baritone he commands each line as a preacher might expel a spirit. Of course, the delivery itself maintains a frenzied tone even when delivering lines like, “I’m just looking for a handshake, brother,” in a way that would make most approached carefully cross the street without looking him in the eyes. The effect of his unsettling vocals in a stark overdriven chamber of effects matches the No Wave aesthetes Mattress so clearly loves, but his lyrics are more geared to mythologizing his own experiences and first person pursuits. On the title track, statements like, “I’m gonna touch you with my golden arm,” both convey Marshall as a Ro-Man type figure and as a human outside of the paradigm of worth – but that could just be making a bunch of hoopla out of what ultimately is an expansion of the city of gold ideal.

As timely and untimely as each meditation is, the sentiment matches the music. In a damaged and fractured sensibility of pop in a shell of abrasively minimal execution, the world of Mattress revolves around finding the hook. Often it comes in a chorus repeated in a surge of power, sometimes it’s a three note motif that goes from ostinato to memorable synth line, and sometimes it never happens at all. ‘Got To Come On’ violently abuses ring modulation and the plaintive wail to disturb and compel in equal amounts, never gracing the song with a real earworm other than its own singular merits as an experimental interlude. The emphasis on experimentalism within his confines is also the downfall of Eldorado, though, as most tracks seem to become amorphous sections of droning keys more than actual songs or pieces. While that’s certainly the point of some forms of music, for Mattress it seems to be a pitfall for his style of writing. As a result, the disc never gels completely and often feels closer to a collection of outtakes than a fully developed album made flesh.

So now the question remains: what do we call Mattress? Neo-No-Wave-Synth-Pop? Experimental-one-man-singer-songwriter-minimal-rock? Or can we eschew categorization and just call it a project? The music that comprises Eldorado certainly seems more suited to be called the project’s end object more than a “pop song” or a “rock song” or even a “song in the vein of Suicide,” despite arguably falling into all three of those types simultaneously. At this point with multiple releases and a much more engaging live show (seeing a grown man flail and scream into a microphone is always amazing – it’s worked for Prurient for years now), the hope is that Mattress pulls together his next release as a cohesive exploration as opposed to a more free-form look into his process.

Rating: 6/10

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