Matthew Subject has surveyed the state of the world and he’s received some information: We’re fucked. The South African guitarist and singer’s second solo undertaking, Re: M Subject, ruminates on the banal, devastating particulars of latest life: retail remedy, depleting consideration spans, extra fossil-fuel emissions, melancholy and not using a discernible trigger. Subject paints these somber nonetheless lifes with a discerning eye, but he by no means swerves into cynicism. Extra impressionistic than moralizing, his music carries a compelling sense of optimism, an abstracted hope that reconnection—with artwork, with intimacy, with nature—can lead us again to a path price strolling.
Within the indie-pop trio Beatenberg, Subject and his bandmates Robin Brink and Ross Dorkin (who produces everything of Re: M Subject) established themselves as a type of Vampire Weekend-lite, principally as a result of Subject’s relaxed, conversational voice so carefully resembles Ezra Koenig’s. However the comparability may also be heard within the group’s sense of rhythm, their toddling guitars, and the candy melodies that skitter and snake all through the combination. Subject dedicated these qualities to final yr’s M Subject EP whereas additionally daring to get weirder. The intense guitars and African-infused percussion remained, however Subject stretched his voice additional and introduced buzzing bass and Mellotron into his preparations, which bent his songs away from Beatenberg’s extra easy pop constructions and nearer to an art-pop core that swelled with the sudden.
Although Re: M Subject is a companion piece to M Subject, the songs right here roil with renewed dynamism. Guitars amble and strings surge, the compositions by no means sitting nonetheless. “Hyenas” flaunts an intricate collage of guitar riffs and key plucks, and a fizzy sawtooth synth that stamps on the refrain’s upbeat. And the hook right here is certainly one of Subject’s sharpest; he contrasts what Susan Sontag as soon as referred to as “the painful structural contradictions inherent within the human state of affairs” with freedoms present in nature. “They’ve received a whole lot of causes/Bought a whole lot of proper phrases/Bought a whole lot of guidelines,” he sings earlier than dropping one of the vital obscure precoital strains of all time: “Child, I’m your forest/Child, I’m your ozone.” Equally, on “Hearth on Campus,” amid organs and muted guitar strums, the narrator notes that, throughout a fireplace, “Some persons are fearful about all of the archives/And a few about birds.” There’s no takeaway right here, simply a picture: individuals gazing a sea of flames, not sure of what they cherish most.
Insofar as Subject presents any structural critique, it’s this: that we’ve misplaced one thing sacred on our highway to progress. Nowhere is this attitude extra obvious than on “Home and Leisure,” maybe the most effective tune Subject has ever made. Whereas the association slashes with buoyant fingerpicking, horn stabs, and pizzicato, he traces the contours of consumerist self-care: watering a plant bought on Amazon Prime, ingesting pure wine, combating his “demons with spears of asparagus.” However when this speaker seeks intimacy with one other, he can’t attain them; they’re every fragments of themselves, their identities codified into product.
Even when Subject’s sonic experimentation backfires—like on “Certainly Years In the past,” the place his Auto-Tune clashes with the lead vocal chop—Re: M Subject looks like an artist blossoming into type, every syllable of his sound pored over and accounted for. And his songwriting, ever his forte, bounds with wit and revelation, like a comic who by no means finishes a punchline however nonetheless finagles a response from his viewers. “Block Universe,” for instance, repeats a easy, biting line: “I can’t promise that I’ll all the time love you.” After every verse, the chorus takes on a brand new which means—is that this an admission to a lover? The universe admonishing him? Spending time in Subject’s overflowing mind makes for charming firm, even whereas he watches the world burn.