Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Matt Mays: Coyote

Truism: Find an album with a good title and half your work as a reviewer will be done already. Matt Mays called his 2012 album Coyote, a figure often invoked in Native American tales of mischief and magic, but also a perverse kind of wisdom and savvy (if I've got my Thomas King right.) Mays' music seems to come from a hot, dusty, sunset desert landscape, half a continent away from the pastoral fields of the Sheepdogs' version of a throwback, the steel and glass of Gary Clark's blues, or the swamp of Alabama Shakes. Like that collection of retro artists, Matt Mays' music seems to come from another era, a remixed and refined version of 70s outlaw rock, with a hint of otherworldly vision. It's a whirlwind of thundering guitars, brutalist riffs, and rasped missives from a dimension soaked in peyote. It isn't really about showing off or songform, it's about tapping into another state of mind. There are solos buried underneath thick hurricane percussion of "Take it On Faith" but it's hard to grab ahold of it. The music never really stops for you. It pushes you around, commands you, and requires repeat visits.

There's some really great rock on here, in addition to that bracing track, we get the swaggering curtain raiser of "Indio" (named for a border town: the album situates you in geography by calling up other disparate corners like Santa Fe and Portland Street, which is in Matt's hometown of Dartmouth, NS.) "Ain't That The Truth" whirs with menacing organs and a pleading vocal: "He said to me the devil can't get you 'cause he ain't got proof / And I said aaaaaaaaain't that the truth." He sounds like someone who's be somewhere and seen something, and he's trying as hard as he can to explain what, exactly, it was. There's the jangling, unsubtly named ode to San Francisco "Stoned" and the towering, Chris Bell-era Big Star-like "Zita." There's the electric eel of a riff that opens "Drop the Bombs," where he sermonizes, "Brothers and sisters hear what I say / Drop the bombs on yesterday!" before exploding into a wild storm of sound. You nevr know when this album is going to freak out, as when "Drop the Bombs" becomes the wild "Rochambo," or "Airstrike," the frantic bridge between "Indio" and "Ain't That the Truth." On the throwaway "Madre Padre," he seems to channel Beck.

You don't see a lot of this distance, this rock and roll mystique anymore. Most artists want to either reveal as much of themselves s they can via stripped-down confessionals, or gloss over it with shiny pop pieces and pastiches. With this album I always feel like the truth is an elusive thing, that it's not put out there for me to absorb, but off on the horizon for me to search. Here's an album for a wandering heart.

He's got a great skill with the ballads, too, using steel guitar the way it was meant to. There's the shattering "Loveless," the somber "Dull Knife" and the weary, dim closer "Chase the Light," which sees the album off into the distance, set for parts unknown. All of them seem sincere and vulnerable, but never betray Mays' outlaw outcast loner preacher searcher imagery. It's intuitive, not obvious.

It's all pretty effortless, but based in a tactful deployment of Mays' rock philosophy. He knows when to barrel on and when to ease off and let the sound take over. It's a journey, not a destination.

Buy this album now: iTunes (Canada) // iTunes (USA) // Amazon.ca // Amazon.com


  1. I'm pretty sure the Portland Street he is referring to is in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, his home town...

  2. That would make approximately a million times more sense. Thanks for nothing, Google.