One of my review listens for Roy Mattson’s Mesmer happened as I was driving along wood-shrouded, unlighted and twisting New England backroads on a dark autumn evening. There came a point where I reached a recognizable confluence of action and atmosphere, where the music was exactly suited to the moment. Now I find that I want to listen to Mesmer only as night comes on, when my mind goes comparatively quiet and I can just let the spaces Mattson creates unfold all around me. On his page the artist notes that he intended the album “to be listened to at night around a campfire or stargazing…” and it’s safe to say he’s squarely nailed the theme. Of course, it helps to layer in field recordings of night sounds; the crickets, the owls, all that, set over quiet pads. Lace it with the active pulse of smooth sequencer lines for a bit of vibrancy. And a touch of tribal percussion in just the right spots always offers up that after-dark feel. The mix of styles blends well one track to the next, and the overall feel is laid-back and pensive. The opener, “Mesmerized,” has a little of everything; owl hoots welcome us, pads lay the groundwork, and the sequencer lines gets us moving a bit. Mattson sets the sequencer aside for several more tracks, then brings it back as a gentle wake-up call on “Invitations and Consolations.” In headphones, the sequencers play out very nicely, spatially. I find the percussion elements here just a little distracting. It sounds like Mattson is leaning toward some kind of syncopation, but it’s hitting a bit randomly. “Feathered Night” leads us into tribal territory by adding a familiar-sounding percussion line in the midst of a breeze-soft flow. It carries into “Quietude” where we are also serenaded by crickets. Flutes slip in as accents, their breathiness upping the organic ante.This time-stretcher of a track takes me out of myself and out under the stars. During one listen, I checked the track length and was surprised it was just eight and a half minutes. Flute plays a major role on “Tending the Embers.” Coasting over pads, it’s meditative and prayer-like. I have always felt that flute music in an intensely personal, intimate thing, and that feel is conveyed well here. And as someone who has say watching the glowing coals of a fading fire well into the night, I connect with this track.
At 81 reasonably quiet minutes, Mesmer has the ability to take its listener quite deep. It’s a looping listen, for sure. That being said, as I tend to prefer a bit more subtlety in the use of field recordings, there are spots where—for me—they might be a trifle overdone. From a thematic point of view, they’re spot on; from a me-as-listener perspective, less so. (For example, the first few minutes of “Invitations and Consolations.”) Also, as much as I enjoy the tribal tones that Mattson brings in, I feel like it might sometimes wander a bit far into Steve Roach’s yard. On the other hand, I’ve been down Mesmer’s starry-night path many times and have fully enjoyed it. Mattson’s output it starting to ramp up; he’s got a lot to say, musically, and this is as good a place as any to start listening to him.
Available from Relaxed Machinery.