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Review: Matt Marks’ The Little Death Vol. 1

July 18, 2010

I’ve been meaning to come up with something to say about The Little Death Vol. 1 now for about a month.  That’s not actually true; my problem has been where to start.  I figured after seeing the final live performance of it at Incubator Arts last night, I should probably just suck it up and figure it out.  So this afternoon, I made the trek to my place of limited distractions, lubricated myself and got to thinking (accidentally putting back on the shirt I wore last night, which incidentally has a bunch of fake blood on it thanks to the performance.  I look like a real winner, and I have no idea why I’m telling you this)  Also, since I’m no theater expert, or even aficionado, I mostly focus on the album, rather than the live show.

So here we go…

Real quick: The Little Death Vol. 1 is the story of a super religious girl named Girl that is being wooed by a boy named Boy.  Boy eventually succeeds and everyone is happy, even during the second song, which is a flash forward to the end of the story when Boy shoots Girl, called OMG I’m Shot.  It’s the catchiest Liebestod ever, but I digress.  TLDV1 is deeply engaging opera that explores all the goodies… sex, religion, death through both words and music.

I’m not going to waste your time describing the music.  You’re much better off just going to the source and hearing it.  The Internet is magical in that way.  If you’ve caught any words on the music, from Matt , Mellissa , New Amsterdam, or reviews (among others) , it comes off pretty much exactly as advertised.  The album doesn’t contain a hint of subtlety, and at the same time it’s a richly detailed work.  There’s nothing hidden or obscured on the record, so the challenge is, as a listener, figuring out how to take it all in.

I “met” this challenge by basically living with the album for a few weeks.  I figured if I was going to fool people into thinking I had something intelligent to say about it, I better listen to it a WHOLE LOT.  Turns out, the joke is on me, because the album appears to be permanently stuck in my head.  I’m not joking- even when listening to something else, Mellissa or Matt’s voice will overtake everything in earshot, like a Jesus and pop music fueled invasive beetle species.

My personal problems aside, the infectious nature of TLDV1 is its key strength.  Just about anyone can write a pop song, and there are lots of people who can sing and play pop songs.  To write songs that are so catchy that they can’t be shaken off, and then to be able to execute them perfectly are talents that only a handful of people possess.

This album definitely captures that one two punch from beginning to end.  It’s polished in multiple ways; the production choices for the songs  shine, capturing the feel of Christian pop music perfectly.  Also, all the little parts fit together in the sort of way that almost makes it feel too natural.  Matt’s musical intuition allowed him to place Wiemar cabaret and J-Pop within a four minutes of one another and make sense.  Little details, such as processed voices in the Penetration Overture for another color within the mix, are both clever and natural.  Additionally, all of these moments are meaningful; they often give shape and color to the story.  The music is an equal partner with the text in telling this love gone wrong story.

Live, Mellissa and Matt partner up to perform the hell out the opera.  The chemistry between the two left out any question that the two person show singing along with instrumental tracks would feel like a karaoke bar.  Individually, both are very engaging but in different ways.  Mellissa is the complete package as a dramatic vocalist, nailing both the acting and singing with ease.  Matt, on the other hand, has that rough around the edges feel that often makes live theater electrifying.  His personality trumped the few moments where his singing didn’t wow.

Before I had totally made sense of the album, I read an interview that Matt did with Indie Rock Reviews and one answer really stuck out.  When asked what his favorite song was, Matt replied “I feel like every song is my favorite as I’m writing it. I lose touch with reality and believe for a short time that it will be the most exultant work of art ever.”  I think this is a great mindset to have when listening to a work like TLDV1.  It feeds on your enthusiasm and then gives it back you twofold.  I also wish that more musicians would write music with that philosophy.  Don’t just write music that you’d like to listen to.  Write music that you’ll  LOVE to listen to.  For what it’s worth, that is what I hear when I listen to music that gets thrown into the “alt-classical” tent: music that wants to get people excited to listen, and then provides them with something to aurally chew on.  I’m excited to hear what Matt can do in future projects with that mindset.

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