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Matt Bauer - The Island Moved in the Storm

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Artist: Matt Bauer

Album: The Island Moved in the Storm

Label: La Société Expéditionnaire

Review date: Oct. 8, 2008

Matt Bauer’s third release is loosely based on a murder story, a young woman found dead in rural Kentucky and not identified for 30 more years. The Brooklyn songwriter spent his childhood in Kentucky and perhaps because of this, he is unusually comfortable with natural imagery and natural sounds. His music sounds transparently simple at first, but later reveals delicately limned metaphors and artfully minimal arrangements.

The “concept” to this album is never overbearing. It may be the murdered girl at the center of “As She Came Out of the Water,” a restrained song whose only hint of sorrow comes in aching forays of pedal steel. Or it may not. In any case, Bauer keeps his voice calm, seldom much over a whisper. There’s no melodrama, just an observer sharp enough to note the shells stirring under his boots in the stream.

The natural world flows around Bauer and his characters, surrounding them, shaping them, spiting them. It is acutely, almost lovingly described, and yet so clearly a cruel place. In “Blacksnake in the Carport,” for instance, a cello throbs under minor lilt and gambol of banjo, muted solace in an indifferent landscape. “Blacksnake in the carport, making for the shadows,” Bauer whispers. “Cut his head off with a hoe, slowly still he travels.”

The rudiments of this album are quite simple – banjo, guitar, hints of strings and soft vocals. Bauer sings mostly alone, yet on a number of tracks guest female vocalists add breathy harmonies. “Old Clothes” pits Bauer’s chorus about missing a loved one against pretty harmonizing descants. “Oh, your old clothes / I can’t throw them out,” he mourns, and the girl trills something lovely about white roses. Female sung harmonies make up the whole of the album’s brief title track, inspired by a river island from Bauer’s Kentucky childhood that moved when it rained hard. “Oh foxgloves whisper from the glass and rocks on the shore / Come, I will tell you where the island moved in the storm,” the voices twine in a cappella. It is over in 24 seconds, but as mysterious and spiritually moving as a church in twilight.

This is quite a beautiful album, subtle and precise in its description of things that are lost, forgotten and forever altering. The “Florida Rain” in one of the songs is just another metaphor for transience. “Oh you’ve been through some hell in your time, and more to come,” Bauer intimates before gaining strength and hope. “But right now it’s just a Florida rain / Drawing down your back in the morning / And it’s gone just as fast as it came/ The sun burns it off/ Like it never was.”

Bauer never lets loose, never whoops, never moans, never shouts, yet you feel, toward the end, as if the intensity had been somehow raised. The Island Moved in the Storm inhabits a strange, beautiful, spiritually satisfying world that is as far from the ordinary run of indie-folk as Kentucky is from Brooklyn.

By Jennifer Kelly

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