by Phil Scarisbrick
After five years, Mat Sweet returns with his seventh album under the Boduf Songs moniker, after finding a home on Owen Ashworth’s Orindal Records home. The new record – Abyss Versions – is as dark and intimidating as the title suggests. Coming from a background of doom metal, Sweet uses that genre’s tone to permeate through the desolate arrangements on display here. The music tends to focus on a single, almost metronomic instrument and layers of quietly-affecting vocals, while everything around them acts like flecks of charcoal on the canvas, adding the real depth.
Opening track – and lead single – Gimme Vortex combines a circulating guitar loop with a hushed, layered vocal to create an elegiac tone. The other sounds interspersed within the track keep the tone shifting elegantly between the uncomfortable and fleetingly warm.
This sense of journey continues on Unseen Forces and How To Use Them. The sparse, electronic beat underpins another guitar loop, with Bill Ryder-Jones-evoking vocals providing a cinematic ambiance. The outro sees the guitar line matched by a pounding and bending bass that makes the latter half of the song feel like a lonely stroll through a desolate space. Sword Weather starts with uncomfortable wails, unevenly matched to instil all manner of negative emotions before disjointedly fading away to leave just Sweet’s guitar and vocal. The song itself is achingly beautiful, despite feeling like an open wound. A xylophone sits low in the mix – its distinct hits acting like twinkling stars in the dark night sky. As the drums kick in, the tone changes, becoming more sinister, and again making the overall result feel like a cinematic oeuvre.
The final track – Highlights of Void – is a nine minute reckoning of a writer trying quantify something that was born out of pain and sadness. The rain and thunder sound effects that close the album may simply be indicative of the whole mood, but they also signal a new beginning. The morning after a storm may leave you perusing the damage of its wrath, but it is also the start of something new and a time to rebuild. Despite the darkness and painfully sad tone, the creaking exoskeleton that holds the record together remains intact, if a little weathered.
The real beauty here is in the restraint shown in the production. In the wrong hands, some of these songs could have turned into overblown behemoths that would diminish their impact. Here, everything feels expertly considered. Sweet sounds defeated, even though he is hanging on by a thread, and it is that slither of hope that courses throughout the record that is its real beauty. The album may feel like it’s buried in darkness, but its trajectory is towards something brighter, even if it is a struggle to get there.
Secret Meeting score: 72