(New Album Review) Matt Christensen- Prowl

I’ve gone on record more than once about my love of Zelienople and Natural Snow Buildings– Matt Christensen is the vocalist and main songwriter of the former unit, Chicago legends for their richly emotive music that borrows elements from drone, folk, post-rock, and slowcore. While his debut solo release proper from 2011 A Cradle in the Bowery and its 2014 follow-up Coma Gears were truly gorgeous stuff, what’s been really interesting about this fellow’s trajectory is how much music he has self-released to Bandcamp since 2014. Some of this freely-shared material is autumnal drone in the vein of Andrew Chalk or Vikki and David Jackman, while some of it compiles songwriting odds and ends…the point is that Christensen takes full advantage of the possibilities for proliferating art through the internet as few other established artists do. You could also say that he shows a great deal of generosity in sharing what strikes him in the moment– some of these releases were apparently uploaded to Bandcamp minutes after having been finished. Prowl, one of his self-releases from June is in fact due to find a home at the non-profit Finnish/English imprint TVEI for a tape/CD-R release at the end of October. And since Prowl, a six-song collection of ambient electronic soundscapes, is awesome stuff, we should dive right in, pronto…

It took me a slightly embarrassing double-take to recognize the figure on the cover design: it’s a manta ray. The solitary traveler. Like any other giant ocean wanderer, it is a self-evidently poetic creature. On Prowl, Christensen sets off like a starsailor borne on a wave of thundering, insistent drum machine loops and gazey washes from synth and guitar. The textures here are soft-focus, swirling, and psychedelic, but the hammering pulse underlying Prowl is a machine with a fiery heart. When Christensen’s vocals eventually find their way into the mix, for instance, at the tail end of the opening title track and as “Junk Test” develops momentum, we find them buried and indistinct amidst the cosmic cascade. The slow-motion ascension of “Crasenim” gives the feel of an epic struggle viewed from afar. “Spending It” and “In Force” sound like isolation ambient helmed by King Tubby. Even the droney, subdued interlude on guitar “Mountains of Fire” (an alternate version of a song that appeared on Sun Worship), the one track that lacks that percussive backbone suffusing the rest of the album, gives the sense of being blurred by distance, of being adrift but not lost behind the steady wall of hiss coming down like soft rain.

Prowl is a mesmeric experiment from a legendary artist. I could go on like this, but it’s best if I duck out now…immerse yourself.

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