Matchess

Somnaphoria

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Chicago-based musician Whitney Johnson's solo project Matchess combines layers of organ and viola drone with primitive, pulsating drum machines and otherwordly vocals beamed in from another galaxy, coming close to a more cosmic, spacy version of a BBC Radiophonic Workshop creation. Matchess' 2013 album Seraphastra was originally released in an edition of 50 cassettes on Brad Rose's astounding Digitalis label, and the album was issued on vinyl the following year by Chicago-based garage/psych-rock label Trouble in Mind. Somnaphoria, also released by Trouble in Mind, is the follow-up, and while it's constructed from a similar palette as Seraphastra, it has a wider scope, and is more expansive and ambitious. The 11 songs on this album all flow in and out of each other, only breaking in the middle for a chance to flip the record over. The hissy fidelity and distorted textures of the debut remain, but there's a wider array of sonic combinations on this album, with clearer passages and more melodic vocals, as well as some more discordant moments. Several of the songs have trudging, dirgelike rhythms, although sometimes the tempos pick up a bit. Johnson's vocals remain eerie and alien, but several of the songs feature catchy vocal melodies, even if it's difficult to discern any of her lyrics. "Mortification of the Flesh" clears out a bit toward the end for a spoken word section, revealing a more straightforward beat, bringing her sound a bit closer to earth while still sounding extraterrestrial. Most impressive is instrumental centerpiece "Sinister Prophecies of Coming Catastrophe," which begins with dramatic strings, while hissing wind slowly rises, shifting into screeching viola feedback, culminating in something truly mind-warping. Later in the album, "But Their Chains" touches on a similar melody, but with a thumping beat and hypnotic vocals, and ending with cascading layers of rumbling noise. "Melts into Air" is the album's serene closing track, with a puttering drum machine beat framing Arthur Russell-like string and vocal melodies. Haunting and ethereal, Somnaphoria inhabits a number of unearthly spaces, and is thoroughly stunning.

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