Release Date: Mar 10, 2015
Record label: Domino
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock
Head here to submit your own review of this album. On 2013's Big Inner, Matthew E. White distilled the diverse ingredients of funk, country, soul, gospel and pysch-rock into such a heady and astonishing record that it was difficult to imagine a follow up of equal value. The roots of that exceptional first album lay in the Richmond, VA singer-songwriter's soothing voice and solid backline, holding firm against a swirl of uplifting tender percussion, golden backing vocals and delicate brass.
Like everyone else, my first experience with Matthew E. White was with 2012’s Big Inner. Just months before its release, I had received my first turntable as a birthday gift from my wife. We began building a record collection from flea markets and bargain bins, but Big Inner became the first new record we ever owned when it arrived at our door, a gift from my sister-in-law in Richmond, Virginia—birthplace of Spacebomb Records, and of Matthew E.
Fresh Blood is already Matthew E. White’s second complexly beautiful album this year. The Richmond-based composer, arranger, songwriter, guitarist and all-around Spacebomb Records entrepreneur produced Natalie Prass’ debut record that came out last month. And now, with his own sophomore effort on Domino (the label that gave 2012’s stellar debut its wide release), White is poised to continue forging the path that Big Inner began three years ago.
Minus the shock of the new, Matthew E White does not disappoint. Back in 2012, Big Inner, the Virginian arranger-cum-studio owner’s country-soul debut album, announced a major new talent whose muffled singing style was wedded to sinuous grooves and celestial horns and brass. Fresh Blood refines the Spacebomb MO, darkening themes and expanding their range, with love songs to music (Rock & Roll is Cold), the late Philip Seymour Hoffman (Tranquility) and emotive tracks such as Holy Moly, a sensitive, Marvin Gaye-referencing reaction to child sex abuse in the Catholic church.
32-year-old American singer, songwriter, producer, musician and label head Matthew E. White is a man deeply in love with music. He lives, breathes and feels every individual facet of his music and what goes into making it. This much is evident from the wonderfully rich and detailed music he makes both on his own and with his Richmond, Virginia based record label, Spacebomb.
It may not have had the exposure of Kanye West’s Yeezus, Daft Punk’s Random Access Memories or Arctic Monkeys’ AM, but there was no doubting the fact that Matthew E White’s debut solo album, Big Inner, was up there with the best of 2013. The record, which was the first to come from his new Motown-inspired label Spacebomb, was given its world wide release by Domino and it wasn’t long before critics started to take notice. Big Inner, which had already been released to widespread acclaim in America in 2012, saw the Virginian singer-songwriter craft seven songs of near perfection.
Though we're only a few months in, 2015 has boded well for Richmond, Virginia-based label/studio/collective Spacebomb so far. After releasing Natalie Prass's stunning debut in January, founder Matthew E. White keeps Spacebomb's stock rising with his equally magnificent sophomore LP, Fresh Blood. While Fresh Blood's home is on indie stalwarts Domino, it very much carries the Spacebomb ethos established on White's and Prass's debuts, with orchestral soul-rock courtesy of Spacebomb's house band and a capable, talented leader and composer at its helm.White often comes off as a neo-hippie preacher, with dogmatic lyrics, a carefully procured brand and image and a soothing lilt befitting of a caring teacher.
Matthew E White’s 2012 debut, Big Inner, seemed to arrive from nowhere. His was a sound so lush, assuredly but sparsely played, and so confident of itself that it sounded like the sort of record established 70s soul acts made as comebacks. And god was it smooth. Those textures remain on the somewhat grimly named follow-up, but there are both revitalising and revitalised sounds of struggle, of a pain beneath the surface that perhaps wasn’t audible before.
When Matthew E White’s debut album, Big Inner, emerged unheralded in 2012, there was a sense of wonder that someone had emerged, seemingly fully musically formed, without anyone realising. But there was also a pleasing oddness about Big Inner: for all the obvious soul influences, the likes of Big Love and Brazos had a trancelike mood that was less Curtis Mayfield than Spiritualized. Its follow-up is a more straightforward affair, and – though still a delicious record – slightly less eye-opening.
"Nobody in this world is better than us," sings Matthew E. White part way through his sophomore LP Fresh Blood. From anybody else it would sound like impossible bravado, but from the Virginia-born song man it works on two levels: a bold proclamation and a strangely self-deprecating statement..
Before he became a frontman, Matthew E. White cut his teeth as a jazz composer and arranger. Although his solo records are adamantly anti-avant-garde, they nevertheless speak to these pronounced structural strengths. This is especially true of Fresh Blood, the 2015 album designed as a deeper, richer, sleeker sequel to his 2012 debut, Big Inner.
Matthew E. White is a devoted Stevie Wonder disciple, and also a devoted do-it-yourselfer. Accordingly, the aesthetic for his Spacebomb record label and studio is “DIY” in the ‘70s auteur sense, not in the punk-rock sense. In interviews, the Richmond, Virginia-based jazz studies alum often name-checks the likes of Marvin Gaye and Randy Newman.
Everything on Matthew E. White’s second full-length album, Fresh Blood, happens in Technicolor, on a scale big enough for a drive-in screen. His artistry lies in the subtle details: hushed ooh la las, swelling strings, friendly horn rhythms. Multilayered and painstaking arrangements weave in and out of Fresh Blood’s 10 tracks, but White largely tames them, and the sweat that must have been poured into the finished work doesn’t leave much of a stain.