One of the most celebrated recent artists from France is Syd Matters. Although that might sound like the name of a band that bases their music on either tributes to Messrs. Vicious or Barrett, it is the stage name of gifted singer / songwriter Jonathan Morali, who won the vaunted CQFD award from French magazine Les Inrockuptibles for his debut album, A Whisper and a Sigh in 2003. Two years later, Syd Matters released Someday We Will Foresee Obstacles an effort which avoided the sophomore slump more than effectively, earning him wider distribution with V2 who would release a self-titled double disc album that would collect every track from the original French releases.
Even though Morali is French, all of his lyrics are in English and he has never actually written any songs in French, due to the fact that he grew up on American and British music. His voice takes on the slightly gruff and melancholy strains of Mark Oliver Everett (Eels) and Beck while also reflecting the occasional dreamy beauty of Nick Drake. Songs also vary in feel from bedroom acoustic guitar tracks like “Black & White Eyes to “Street Spirit”-like Radiohead-y tracks such as “Flow Backwards.” Piano, synth, guitar and vocal effects are the name of the game for Syd Matters, an artist who chooses to align himself with artists who defy genre such as the aforementioned Radiohead and Nick Drake, but also Robert Wyatt and Joanna Newsom (although fewer parallels are to be found there.) However, in songs like “English Way,” one can easily imagine, forgive the pun, an artist like John Lennon having influenced the music in some important way.
Syd’s second album comes first on this compilation that might make for some confusion. A Whisper and a Sigh is definitely a `first’ album, one of those homemade bedroom CD’s with a sparser, more personal feel. Someday We Will Foresee Obstacles is far more dense and layered, with songs feeling more fleshed out with various sprawling and eerie melodies suffusing the more mature vocal performance. It’s almost as if Whisper were created on the influence of The Bends while Someday is the result of an OK Computer bender. Regardless, Syd Matters’ elegant song stylings are more than welcome additions to the collection. The music is mature and thoughtful while lyrics are smart, if not a little creepy at times. (“Sometimes I wish I could pull your eyes out,” and “Sometimes I feel I could knock your brains out,” come to mind). Syd Matters is the next step in the evolution of the singer / songwriter, that is unless if you believe in intelligent design, which means you’d probably have to ignore all of the influences, which would just plain be silly.
Beck- Sea Change
Nick Drake- Bryter Layter
Radiohead- Kid A