Music

Matt Evans' Ambient Soundscapes Transcend the Genre on 'New Topographics'

Photo: Walter Wlodarczyk / Courtesy of Clandestine Label Services

New York-based percussionist/composer, Matt Evans brilliantly infuses his spacey sonic landscapes with the sounds of everyday life on New Topographics.

New Topographics
Matt Evans

Whatever's Clever

17 April 2020

The term "New Topographics" was coined in 1975 by William Jenkins, who curated an exhibition of American landscape photography with that title at George Eastman House in Rochester, New York. The subjects of the black-and-white prints exhibited at the show included streets, warehouses, industrial sites, and suburban houses. The exhibition seemed to marry the sophisticated aesthetic of photography with banal, everyday subject matter.

There is a parallel between this type of exhibition and the striking new album of the same title by percussionist and composer Matt Evans. The basic foundation of the album's nine tracks – recorded in December 2018 during a month-long artist residency program at the Brooklyn art space Pioneer Works – is ambient soundscapes, often a droning, buzzing, or humming backdrop. But Evans peppers the tracks with a variety of exciting and unique sounds: percussion, synthesizers, or noises from everyday life that we likely take for granted.

Exhibit A: "Full Squid", the album's opening track. A high-pitched drone, almost like a slightly subdued alarm tone, provides a low-key but slightly tense bed for the playful percussion and spacey keyboard chords that dance all around. It sets the scene for the rest of the album perfectly: both experimental and imminently playful, it's the kind of experimental soundscape that can provide something of a calming effect without lulling you into a "background music"-inspired slumber. This music is alive.

"An Infinite Cybernetic Meadow" uses the same type of sonic road map, but it's more leisurely and stretched-out, almost like a more relaxed alternative to the caffeinated jitters of the first track. But "Spinning Blossoms" is where Evans' imagination and brilliance truly come to life, elevating the concept of "found sound" to new heights. The sounds of computer keyboard typing weave into the fabric of the song, alongside steel drum patches and soaring bits of synth lines that are fully formed and blur the lines between arty conceptualizing and engaging melodies.

"Cold Moon" takes the "typing" sounds a step further by incorporating the sounds of a pencil scribbling furiously on paper and blending it with a droning, tense wall of noise, tumbling percussion, and alien-like computerized blips and burps. It's a unique listening experience that can sound jarring and off-putting at first. But eventually, the sounds all blend in a weirdly calming manner, as if you've stumbled upon some extraterrestrial civilization that you don't want to escape for fear that they might have something useful to share.

Then there's "Data Fog", fueled by exotic percussion and eventually joined by an insistent, sustained metallic chord. The song then descends into noisy distortion, creating some of the album's more exhilarating moments of unhinged chaos. There are times when the noise inspires a bit of otherworldly rhythmic din, as on the clattering, syncopated "Ongongos". Something like a distorted steel drum pounds out a stuttering funk beat while other bits of percussion and ambient synth chords and fall in line. It's an odd but gently intoxicating three-minute ride.

New Topographics concludes with "New Moon", which borrows a few concepts from the album's previous tracks – the droning sound is similar to that of "Full Squid", and that scribbling sound also resurfaces. Odd bits of percussion come out of nowhere, in a manner that is strange and unfamiliar but not at all foreboding. Matt Evans is a tremendously talented sonic architect, and with New Topographics, he can take the strangest musical concepts and make them seem exciting, accessible, comforting – even consoling.

Related Articles Around the Web
8


Music


Books


Film


Television


Recent
Books

A Fresh Look at Free Will and Determinism in Terry Gilliam's '12 Monkeys'

Prof. Susanne Kord gets to the heart of the philosophical issues in Terry Gilliam's 1995 time-travel dystopia, 12 Monkeys.

Music

The Devonns' Debut Is a Love Letter to Chicago Soul

Chicago's the Devonns pay tribute the soul heritage of their city with enough personality to not sound just like a replica.

Music

Jaye Jayle's 'Prisyn' Is a Dark Ride Into Electric Night

Jaye Jayle salvage the best materials from Iggy Pop and David Bowie's Berlin-era on Prisyn to construct a powerful and impressive engine all their own.

Music

Kathleen Edwards Finds 'Total Freedom'

Kathleen Edwards is back making music after a five-year break, and it was worth the wait. The songs on Total Freedom are lyrically delightful and melodically charming.

Television

HBO's 'Lovecraft Country' Is Heady, Poetic, and Mangled

Laying the everyday experience of Black life in 1950s America against Cthulhuian nightmares, Misha Green and Jordan Peele's Lovecraft Country suggests intriguing parallels that are often lost in its narrative dead-ends.

Music

Jaga Jazzist's 'Pyramid' Is an Earthy, Complex, Jazz-Fusion Throwback

On their first album in five years, Norway's Jaga Jazzist create a smooth but intricate pastiche of styles with Pyramid.

Music

Finding the Light: An Interview with Kathy Sledge

With a timeless voice that's made her the "Queen of Club Quarantine", Grammy-nominated vocalist Kathy Sledge opens up her "Family Room" and delivers new grooves with Horse Meat Disco.

Books

'Bigger Than History: Why Archaeology Matters'

On everything from climate change to gender identity, archaeologists offer vital insight into contemporary issues.

Film

'Avengers: Endgame' Culminates 2010's Pop Culture Phenomenon

Avengers: Endgame features all the expected trappings of a superhero blockbuster alongside surprisingly rich character resolutions to become the most crowd-pleasing finalés to a long-running pop culture series ever made.

Music

Max Richter's 'VOICES' Is an Awe-Inspiring and Heartfelt Soundscape

Choral singing, piano, synths, and an "upside-down" orchestra complement crowd-sourced voices from across the globe on Max Richter's VOICES. It rewards deep listening, and acts as a global rebuke against bigotry, extremism and authoritarianism.

Music

DYLYN Dares to "Find Myself" by Facing Fears and Life's Dark Forces (premiere + interview)

Shifting gears from aspiring electropop princess to rock 'n' rule dream queen, Toronto's DYLYN is re-examining her life while searching for truth with a new song and a very scary-good music video.

Music

JOBS Make Bizarre and Exhilarating Noise with 'endless birthdays'

Brooklyn experimental quartet JOBS don't have a conventional musical bone in their body, resulting in a thrilling, typically off-kilter new album, endless birthdays.

Music

​Nnamdï' Creates a Lively Home for Himself in His Mind on 'BRAT'

Nnamdï's BRAT is a labyrinth detailing the insular journey of a young, eclectic DIY artist who takes on the weighty responsibility of reaching a point where he can do what he loves for a living.

Music

Monte Warden and the Dangerous Few Play It Cool​

Austin's Monte Warden and the Dangerous Few perform sophisticatedly unsophisticated jazz/Americana that's perfect for these times

Music

Eleanor Underhill Takes Us to the 'Land of the Living' (album stream)

Eleanor Underhill's Land of the Living is a diverse album drawing on folk, pop, R&B, and Americana. It's an emotionally powerful collection that inspires repeated listens.

Music

How Hawkwind's First Voyage Helped Spearhead Space Rock 50 Years Ago

Hawkwind's 1970 debut opened the door to rock's collective sonic possibilities, something that connected them tenuously to punk, dance, metal, and noise.

Books

Graphic Novel 'Cuisine Chinoise' Is a Feast for the Eyes and the Mind

Lush art and dark, cryptic fables permeate Zao Dao's stunning graphic novel, Cuisine Chinoise.

Music

Alanis Morissette's 'Such Pretty Forks in the Road' Is a Quest for Validation

Alanis Morissette's Such Pretty Forks in the Road is an exposition of dolorous truths, revelatory in its unmasking of imperfection.

Reviews
Collapse Expand Reviews

Features
Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 PopMatters.com. All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.