Matheson have been around Ballarat and a regular mainstay on its few but frequented stages for some years now; this album is tribute to a band hitting their straps both as songwriters and as a road-hardened band.
Style-wise, if the Kings of Leon could steal that big, mid-tempo rock-vocal sound from Noiseworks then it should be fair cop for Matheson to steal it back – they come close to getting away with it upon the opening tune Let the Satellites Fall.
Along with the power ballad Forever Girl these are some of the most rock radio-friendly tunes this band have come up with so far; what has evolved from a country and folk base now rocks out a bit louder and stronger.
Yet the folk and country roots of Matheson remain: 1859 goes back to history for inspiration in a tale of a sailor headed back to Australia, while Caroline Blues digs deeper into a Dylanesque folk groove with added (uncredited) harmonica.
Safe For Now gets across deeply felt and complex feelings about military involvement in overseas conflicts without getting bogged down in platitude or too-simple rhetoric, while She Was From the Country sounds like a road anthem with a crooked twist for university students from the country, destined to be played to crowds of students at uni campuses across regional Australia.
Frontman and guitarist Aaron Mathews is ably backed with harmonies from bassist Mark Perry and drummer Steven Martin, with some additional work by guitarist Dan Houlihan (Epicure), pianist Yuko Nusiyama and the album’s producer Cam McKenzie.
A big sounding debut with the promise of more to come from a very promising band.
– Jarrod Watt
It’s not exactly Frank Sinatra circa 1966. But the phrasing of “my heart is like a stranger in the night” in entrée Let The Satellites Fall is a salient signpost to romantic imagery by Ballarat band Matheson. That’s the same band that scored home state exposure as support for Louisiana swamp pop octet Lil Band O Gold on its debut Australian tour in March.
But the imagery is much darker in 1859 – a love story set in days of yore when city chaps invaded the bush, panning and digging for gold. The sailor in the song returns from across the ocean in response to a letter from a lover with marriage plans. Sounds like faded love as he reveals on his return “flowers of romance no longer bloom” – and “the town is not worth fighting for.”
And don’t be dissuaded simply because Matheson may be marketed as alt-country. There’s none of the barking dog distortions favoured by those total depression dirge practitioners in these 11 songs.
Singer Aaron Matthews drives an accessible vocal vehicle that speeds and slows to suit mood swings. That’s low gear for Lullabies and cruise control for the vitriolic parody of political puppeteers priming the fear pump in masters of war reprise Safe For Now. The band explore diverse shades of love – a fortune teller-fuelled fear in the jaunty Caroline Blues, where the character’s songs fall on deaf ears, and the same emotion at journey’s end in Forever Girl. And maybe this is too analytical, but the vixen – spawned by paternal butcher and maternal lawyer – in I Was Her Man, may be easily identified if she hails from Ballarat. Then again, perhaps not. It’s a large place, after all. But the literary licence to print this manipulative, flawed princess may have been issued far from the scene of the rhyme, and it beats a hasty retreat from a chilling crescendo. Either way, you get the picture – these wanton women are not bucolic Betty Crockers of a new era.
Mary Lynn is a barroom rose who wilts in the neon glow and the lass in She Was From The Country ends life as a blood splattered boomerang. This intriguing disc ends with optimism – The World Still Turns Me On – and surreal splendour in The River & The Sun. Bassist Markus Perry, drummer Stevie Martin and Yuko Nishiyama on keyboards all help and enable guitarist Matthews (as well as guests Dan Houlihan and Cam McKenzie) to ensure the narratives are never drowned. Lovely.
– David Dawson
Hailing from Ballarat in regional Victoria, a town notorious for bitterly cold winters and clinging to the past, Matheson have burst out of hibernation to release a cracking
The 11 songs showcase the songwriting talents and world-class vocals of Aaron Matthews as he traverses through a musical landscape backed by his travelling companions and impeccable rhythm section, made up by Mark Perry on bass and Stevie G. Martin behind the drums.
Sometimes they travel at full-speed, as heard in opening track ‘Let the Satellites Fall” with its driving drums, weaving bass lines and Matthews’ vocals floating over the top. At other times they slow right down to soak up their environs. The perfect example of this is ‘Safe for Now’, one of the most eloquent and beautiful political statements you are likely to hear, with its questioning of our political leader’s continuing involvement in a war that is happening on the other side of the world. This underlying darkness is a consistent theme throughout the album – what superficially seems to be a slow-building ballad – peels open to reveal a crime of passion on ‘She was from the Country.’
‘These are my Horses’ is the sound of a confident band that knows how to hook in the listener with memorable choruses, sweet melodies and great storytelling. Matthews’ voice leaves you grasping for comparison. But it is the pure quality, and perhaps the disbelief that it could come forth from small-town Australia, that may warrant the questioning.
Matheson’s latest opus, These Are My Horses is set for release in April 2010 through Dust Devil Music. Recorded with Cam McKenzie (Horsehead, Mark Seymour, Things Of Stone And Wood) in a handful of sessions at Eastern Bloc Studios & Sing Sing Studios in Melbourne, as well as McKenzie’s Station Place studio, the band have risen like a phoenix from the ashes of the alt country tag into unchartered, adventurous folk pop streams of consciousness.
Atmospheric balladry builds to rising crescendos here. And there. And everywhere in between on These Are My Horses. There’s a haunting, a longing in the vocal with solid rhythms that evoke lashings of indie pop, and the finest granules of roots-based whip twang, accessible to many the music fan. You can’t pigeonhole the sound. The record simply seeping into the subconscious, such is its effortless, ethereal touch. The deepest, foghorn of vocals are on display from the bands voice-box and guitarist Aaron James Matthews, whose lungs are as strong as an ox in rousing chorus breaks yet tender as its calf in the verse flow.
These Are My Horses has a structured yet weightless feel. The mood akin to a slow-burn passing of the seasons. ‘Safe For Now’ and ‘River & The Sun’ are delicate and immediate ditties. Yet the band quickly turns that on its head through powerful numbers like ‘Let the Satellites Fall’ and ‘I Was Her Man’. Matthews’ lyrical poetry conjuring images of Colonial Australia on ’1859′, and nights spent in alcohol-soaked bars on ‘Mary Lynn’. From roots inspired waltzes and straight-up, riff-laden rockers, the record’s intimate yet sprawling narrative echoes around the expansive countryside it roams across. Drunk on horseback. Riding towards camp. Vengeful, yet filled with remorse. A tenderness you can touch. A taming of the wild beast.
On bass, Markus Perry weaves a wonderful low-end tapestry upon which the guitars float. Whilst Stevie G Martin’s work behind the drum kit helps provide a light and a shade, allowing the rockers to rock and the rollers to roll. With guest guitars by Cam McKenzie and Dan Houlihan, as well as lush keyboards and backing vocals provided by Yuko Nishiyama, Matheson’s These Are My Horses is a velvet sledgehammer of a record, best enjoyed with a cold lager in hand and rolled cigarette at your fingertips.
These Are My Horses.
This is Matheson.
– Nick Argyriou