Friday, May 27, 2022

Matthew Liam Nicholson Meditates on Relationships and the World on New Album ‘Universal Outsider’

Australian-born, now California-based dream-pop, folk-rock singer-songwriter Matthew Liam Nicholson, has a prolific body of work that has seen play in various mediums from films to art installations.

His work airs on the more ambient and meditative side of instrumental expression while lyrically skating around dreamy folk-inspired storytelling.

His most recent project 'Universal Outsider' carries on this tradition while building on ideas and imagery of the various singles he has been dropping since late 2021, a handful of which appear in the first half of this project.

The opener 'Hanalei' kicks off with these lightly pulsating ambient guitar stabs before unfurling into a hypnotic and slightly off-kilter piano ballad and concluding with a slightly distorted and reversed voice speaking in the mix before the final chorus begins to progressively drown it out, creating an almost ominous feeling.

In contrast, the second track 'Dusty Bones'  builds a lavish dream-pop soundscape around a teetering organ passage that ebbs and flows in a wash of strings and harmony. Lyrically the track ponders the question of what makes us, us, and what that means when we pass with the refrain, "What becomes of us? A pile of dusty bones / Rattling in the wind / Together or alone"  

'Time Machine' Is probably one of the most comparably straightforward tracks on the record. With its psychedelic soundscapes and Floyd-esque production, the track follows the story of the album's namesake as he floats through time in his broken time machine.

Borrowing stylistically from the 'Time Machine', in regards to being one of the handfuls of comparably straightforward songs on the album, 'The Publisher' is a big sing-along, ambient explosion of synths and ethereal bliss. 'Sirian Song' revolves around the haunting eastern-inspired violin and guitar passage that swells around a cacophony of steady drums and almost percussive yet smooth woodwind instruments. 

The two tracks directly after 'Red Hook' and 'Bodies' exist at this really fascinating intersection of 60s folk balladry, 70s progressive rock and mid-90s shoe-gaze textural ambiance. The former often for a more eerie and sparse approach to this genre meld while the latter takes a markedly heavier approach, lyrical both generally addressing moving from one stage in life to another and the challenges that can present.

'Iron Bird' the track proceeding, sees Nicholson branching off into Indian classical territory with a litany of Indian percussive and ambient instruments under girthing a reversed and sampled guitar that dances through the mix.

The proceeding tracks, 'Alone at Sea' and 'Motefish' share in that similar milieu of 'Red Hook' and 'Bodies'. Instead of addressing transitional periods in life opt instead to tackle the feeling of isolation in a large and or densely populated space. 

All together 'Universal Outsider' is a beautiful and melancholically effervescent collection of ambient folk tracks that pull from a wide dirth of musical influences from around the world. This album is perfect for fans of artists like, Brian Eno and Bon Iver, as well as listeners of all things psychedelic.

Kenneth Butcher


Image: 'Universal Outsider' Official Album Cover

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