April 12, 2010
While Matthew Herbert’s methods of recording audio samples are inspiring and outlandish, he always captures a bit of the human element. It’s not just because his discography includes a noisy digestive tract turned into a euphoric house melody; there’s an appreciation for randomness, mistakes, and chaos that runs through his work. On his new solo album, One One, an artist who weaves multiple meanings into his music through contextual sampling strips down to a single source: himself.
At first, it seems like a playful volley in Herbert’s game of dissecting music, politics, and theory. The first of a trio of conceptual releases, including One Pig (composed strictly of sounds from one pig) and One Club (sampled crowd noise from a club), One One focuses more on instruments and is 100% Herbert, including his own intimate vocals. It’s a solo record simple and straightforward, less of a concept than we’re used to from someone who can turn a rhythm track into an arch-consumerist critique. What then is the difficulty, statement, or challenge when an acclaimed producer makes his own album?
As with many things Herbert, it’s not that easy or simple. A quieter, stripped-down approach to his typically tight rhythms and rich tones, One One has a deceptively relaxed vibe. It may be the rural studio that it was recorded in, or it may be Herbert being more introspective (just listen to him sing about home on “Berlin”). He knows how to get the most out of his source material, and when that happens to be his own voice, he plays it cool or sticks to gentle, simple melodies. He doesn’t showcase substantial range or a hidden talent, but Herbert does demonstrate a lack of artifice, self-awareness, and variety.”Singapore” shines with a bright, folksy vibe and retro vocal harmonies. On the slow-burning single “Leipzig”, his detached storytelling style fits the song’s slinky, clubland theme.
While it’s conceptually all about one man, by the end of the ten heartfelt tracks, it doesn’t feel as personally revealing as it does poignant. Maybe it’s because the self-contained solo project is more subtle overall, with poetic, yet still political, lyrics (“And with the rising of the seas/ Mouths will be open/ And with the drying of the fields/ Everything will be gone”). Herbert met the challenge of ditching some experimental baggage and being more straightforward; he doesn’t always need an elaborate platform or sonic ruse to say something worth hearing.