Review: Mark Matos and Os Beaches
Words of the Knife
There are no two instruments, when used properly in a rock and roll band, that captivate the ear more dramatically than the organ and the lap steel. Words of the Knife, the debut record from San Francisco’s Mark Matos and Os Beaches, somehow has managed to coalesce both sounds into a sun-drenched tone all its own, wrapping itself loosely around shadowy notions, moments of epiphany, and confessions of self-deprecation. The record, released by the Porto Franco label on November 17, 2009, is a fine example of how eclectic and original one can be while trespassing on familiar musical landscapes.
From the onset of Words of the Knife Matos and company create an easy to listen to vibe, driven by the unexpected pairing of the lap steel and the organ. When most people think of lap steels, their imaginations lead them to smoky honkytonks, and bearded balladeers singing songs about unfaithful women. However, Matos embraces every ounce of the lap steel’s Hawaiian origins to create a new chapter in the Americana workbook. “Palavras de Faca,” sung in Portuguese, is as gentle as a sea breeze and provides a wilting soundtrack to those sipping on drinks with fruit in them.
But the fact that Hawaii is just as much a state of the union as Tennessee is not lost on Matos. On his heartbreaking song, entitled obviously enough “Break-up Song,” Matos blends the sounds of organs, barroom pianos, and the same tropic whispers in a slack-key to a new form. The interplay is open, and warm, but also disciplined enough to prevent it from falling into a psychedelic hole.
There are easy comparisons between Matos’ un-affected vocal style and lyricism to that of Conor Oberst, but while Bright Eyes’ front man has a proclivity for fervor, Matos’ tendencies lean towards ennui. He often throws off lines being careful not to give away any more than the content itself. It’s not to say Matos is morose, but rather, matter of fact. Even while singing something as painful as “It was a pleasure to have held you / to have you next to me / I just kind of felt you moving away from me,” Matos’ delivery is guarded.
Os Beaches is a San Francisco super-band of sorts, pulling together a troupe of bar-tested musicians. There is an obvious comfort between the members, and you can tell they are much more than a backing band. Much like Howe Gelb’s work with Giant Sand, there is a coherence and unity in the backdrop that is right in time with the leader’s step. Words of the Knife is a unique and compelling record that feels familiar, but not tired.
Chris Weaver is the co-owner and Executive Producer at Bear House, a film production company, and he is also very worried about how scary Martin Scorcese’s Shutter Island is going to be.
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