The Matinee Orchestra
The Matinee Orchestra
atinee is a word that’s pleasant to say aloud. So is orchestra. I suppose I could even stretch to say that the label name (Arable) is a nice sounding word, too. This project’s name brings to mind the good old days of flickering cinema, imaginations, live music, lazy days, and childlike excitement in music.
The outer artwork further carries this childhood theme in its unsophisticated drawing of the night sky with the moon, clouds, and stars while inside, the sun rises over crude semicircle-shaped hills. There is an ingenuousness, an uncomplicated wonder and sense of innocence in the melodies and layering of instrumentation.
So why isn’t this just another folktronica release? What makes it different? Well in this case, the laptop’s helping to tell the tale; it isn’t the one doing the talking. This is a very human, very fragile, and live-sounding collection. I don’t mean that it’s a delicately constructed sounding piece. I mean there is a sense that it feels as if the album is something real and not an editing together of unrelated parts. It’s like it has been pieced together with something approaching real care and heart. The Matinee Orchestra may well be Andrew Hodson’s baby (the producer, compiler, arranger, editor, and writer), but he’s courteous enough to go with the collective name for the album and its reasonably extensive cast list.
Another reason why The Matinee Orchestra isn’t just another example of “whatever” is that this LP starts with a magnificent conclusion. The first pass through “Thanking You for Listening” may leave a brief taste of sentimentality with its twinkling xylophone, harmonious horns, wordless female vocals. But this is soon utterly dismissed as it picks up a warm, yet wintry charm unbowed by corniness and driven by joy; a feeling of distinctly untwee, glorious, hard-to-hold happiness. The song ends with night and the sound of crickets and cars slowly passing. And after night comes the bird’s dawn chorus on the jam-packed instrumental “Hide and Seek,” which immediately disarms any further cynicism with the voices of children peppered throughout. The voices of children come again on the second half of “It’s a Fantasy World / Everyone Has the Right to Protest Even if No One Listens” (a field recording at an antiwar rally).
“Hide and Seek” flows into “The Matinee March,” a beautifully unfolding, melodious piece of la-la-la-ing (and not a march). In a few short minutes it goes from an introductory piece of Wilson brothers’ vocals to a Sunday afternoon Sparklehorse-styled beauty with a loved up J.Mascis playing slow, sweetened guitar.
Where a band like Tunng can sometimes be a little cold in their introduction of electronic elements, the touches here are warm and organic sounding. “Run for Cover” has playful horns skirting around the guitar and vocals with bursts of rain-on-glass and thunder FX. The electronic touches here barely interrupt the flow, even the squiggles and on/off digital facial of “I’ll Never be Afraid Again.” “It’s a Fantasy World / Everyone Has the Right to Protest Even if No One Listens” is a late highlight (and a mouthful) with a very familiar and hymnal sound. The whole song has an air of hope about it and I’m not sure exactly why. The rippling rise-and-fall water effect of the xylophone works with both the mild flute work and its wilder, freer melodic parts.
There’s a difficult to quantify hi-fi Daniel Johnston feeling on the record too sometimes. For a virtually instrumental LP, that’s a difficult statement to justify, but there’s an innocence in the music that captures something of that man’s mood. Minus the obsessive stuff about that girl.
So how does an album close that began with an ending? “Imagination of a Watermelon,” a beautiful, eye-watering violin melody that swells and surges only to drift off into the sound of the great outdoors.
To slap a big fat cliché on the album, this is a Smile for the post-laptop generation, for people who get their daily fix of magic from the sky or the birds. For people who don’t need their magic wrapped up in legends. I suppose this makes Mr. Andrew Hodson the man with sand between his toes.