Guitarist, singer and composer Ann Matthews is best known for her work in Wales’ Ectogram, in which she’s played since 1994. Brocken Spectre, her first solo effort, resides in a place very far from the hard-etched lines and pop-psych forcefulness that typifies Ectogram’s style. As Annalogue, she invokes a world of shades, whispers and introspection, exposing and enhancing the most minute details in the process.
From the outset, we are plunged into a soundworld rife with drone, ambiguous tonality and rich with effect and timbre. “The swing that swung is broken,” intones Matthews, the music’s undulating and fractured motion emulating the words. Multi-layered guitars outline and accentuate different areas of a major scale. Yet, the music never quite comes to rest, gliding along as haunting vocals swirl in and out of focus. A faint pulse underlies the layers of lush reverb. The pitch and timbre spectrum broadens for “Anomic Recipe,” with deep bass and tinkling bells complimenting Matthews’ multi-pronged vocals.
Many of the tracks behave in this way, but that’s not to imply a lack of variety. The spacious production distinguishes each instrument and texture. Only on “Tony Wilson” does the texture become intensely dense; the Indian instrumentation is supplemented by what sounds like clarinet, but it’s hard to determine with any precision, as there are so many sounds on offer.
There is a beguiling innocence to this music, a simplicity that no amount of intricacy can overshadow. Points of comparison are difficult to find, but I hear Jandek and early Residents. Matthews uses tonality more than Jandek, and the rhythmic drive of Residents material is largely absent, but both artists inhabit a place rooted in childhood recollection, much like Annalogue. Brocken Spectre is an unsettling but rewarding first effort.