Matthew Squires’ The Giving is a Great Window Into Explorative Songwriting

by Bram Howard

Matthew Squires The Giving

For those of you who don’t know, Matthew Squires and the Learning Disorders is the collaborative project centered around singer-songwriter Matthew Squires based out of Austin, Texas. Squires states on his Facebook that the “band” is, “a rotating lineup of people who he forces to play with him at gunpoint.” So basically a creative musical blob with a core that is Matthew Squires, but with different ideas from different folks he knows. Pretty cool. Typically you get a lot of Indie Pop infused Folk from this band, but with Matthew Squires’ most recent EP, The Giving, the band’s music finds itself in a much more dialed back and introverted place.

From the introduction of “Sex, Drugs, Rock and Roll (or: At Least Whatever’s Left of It)”, one gets the sense that this is going to be a pretty tripped out affair.  The opening sound collage of pontificating street preachers, rolling drums and warped voice chants reminds me of the opening of Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, as it chaotically swirls around you before ceasing to make room for a single acoustic guitar and Squires’ signature Jeff Mangum-esque vocals. With the groove the band is able to create from the guitar and simplistic percussive instrumentation, the song has a nice Psychedelic Folk feel, and shows off how well these artists are able to work with such a limited toolbox.

“Whirlpool Hymnal” begins with another small sound collage of waves crashing, throat singing, and a distant crowd counting down. Once we hear the music again, we are now in the thick of what the rest of this album feels like, pretty much exclusively accompanied by Squires and his guitar, slowly plucking simple, and very subtly Poppy, guitar melodies while his voice drifts about above. With this stripped down format, one can really hear how well Squires is able to carry melody with his voice. The guitar on this song plays one small phrase over and over, but the track is built around Squires, with the occasional addition of texture via droning organ or water dripping field recordings.  It’s quite impressive from both a musicianship and songwriting perspective.

 

 

The Giving” has Squires and his guitar playing a similar vibe to the previous track; again, just a simple guitar melody and floating vocals. What breaks the monotony a bit, however, is the occasional injection of recordings of cheering crowds, plinks and plonks of field recorded percussion, distant electric guitars, and trumpet melodies. Through the implementation of these, one gets the sense that they’re almost listening to a sort of Field Recordings project on top of a Folk track, like a clash between simple, but regimented, songwriting and chaotic, but somehow cohesive, background noise. It propels this music beyond just being singer-songwriter ‘X’ and into a completely creative entity. I’m quite into it.

With the closing track, “Bedrock of Life”, we again are greeted by a mass of sounds and recordings, sounding like we’re trapped in some in-between state where half of us is in some busy city, and the other is inside a TV with the channels constantly changing. All this evaporates to again find Squires and his guitar playing their Indie Folk for us, but at this point things begin to unfortunately feel a bit repetitious. Although Squires’ lyrics are especially personal and varied, the songs are all sort of built around a central phrasing that doesn’t appear to change much. That is, until you hear the hidden track on the back end of this song. It’s much more Folky than the rest of the album, with no samples or anything, and with lyrics about missing someone to the point of being able to write about nothing else. It feels like the most personal track on the album, and flits along a little quicker than everything else, and somehow finds its way into my favorite “track” on the album.

Squires is able to create something here that blurs the lines of Folk and experimentation, remaining simultaneously stripped down, but with enough layers of complexity to notice a little something different each listen.  While the EP at times will feel a bit repetitious, at least in the main vocals and guitar department, it deserves praise for its use of sound collage, the intimacy of Squires’ singing and lyrics, and the tinge of Pop that seems to poke its head out with each song. It’s a great window into explorative songwriting, and small stroll down avenues of sound that you maybe never heard before.

The Giving will be out on August 28th, through Matthew Squires’ Bandcamp page.


Bram Howard is a music writer living in Austin, TX. He also plays in Leche.