Go back and revisit the first season of several fondly remembered television shows – Seinfeld and Star Trek: The Next Generation being good examples – and prepare to be disappointed. Neither the writers nor the cast knew their characters well enough to explore them with any depth, producing overrated debut seasons hamstrung by derivative plots and forced action. Only with experimentation, improved screenwriting, and the actors’ budding familiarity with their roles did these classic series eventually find their footing.
The same could be said for Matt Messore. After spending 2010 to 2016 with indie acts like the pop-punk Nightlights and underappreciated jangle-rockers Dear Tracks, Messore cut two proper releases as Cathedral Bells: 2020’s Velvet Spirit and 2021’s Ether. Both were underwhelming exercises in washed-out DIY dream-pop and sampled drums. Innocuous but hardly inspiring.
Everything at Once is a considerable improvement. The bedroom-pop aesthetic is still dominant, but Messore has supplied much better material here. Not to say the walls come crashing down; these aren’t groundbreaking sounds by any means, and albums from this genre tend to blend together almost by definition. But when done right, erudite jangle-pop of this sort can be quite addictive, depending on one’s mood.
The opener, “All Under the Sky”, is a bouncy exercise in Echo and the Bunnymen ‘lite’ (extremely lite), but still reasonably effective. “Fall Into Place” follows up with one of Everything at Once‘s best cuts, a melange of keyboards, drum samples, and jangly guitar bringing to mind excellent recent releases such as Terry vs. Tori’s Heathers from 2020.
Growing up on 1970s classic rock, this reviewer has never been a fan of drum samples or machines. But they’ve been around a while by now, and as with ChatGPT, fighting them is like spitting into the wind. They can also do things humans might find difficult, like tearing up the kit Keith Moon-style while still sounding congenial. The energetic title track “Everything at Once” probably makes the best use of them, switching gears and beats fast enough to tire out Neil Peart. Yet one still gets the bleak feeling that our tech-overlord future will be less “Terminator” Skynet and more lifeless “Wall-E” inertia, with machines doing all the worthwhile creative labor while we Homo sapiens grow corpulent and lazier by the minute.
One vintage dream-pop aspect Messore has vastly improved upon with Everything at Once would have to be ‘haunting’. “Endless” is a short-but-memorable acid trip down mysterious and melodic avenues, with pleasantly disorienting vocals and echo-laden Henry Frayne/Lanterna-style riffs. Muscular keyboards come to the forefront halfway through the nostalgic “Clinging to the Ground”, while the repetitive yet addictive clinking earworm “Void” came to me in a dream the other night after only a week’s exposure.
There are precisely zero revelations on Everything at Once, and Messore’s latest excursion into bedroom pop covers well-trodden territory. His relaxed vocals rarely rise above the level of somewhat interested, though they’re well-suited to his mid-fi music style, welcoming the listener into his dreamy parlor. But Cathedral Bells’ target demographic knows who they are and will devour Everything At Once with relish.