“For a long time, I have run from the themes I explore on this album. Now, I’m ready to process these aspects of my life through art.”
The New York City-based songwriter and producer has survived a painful, but, ultimately, profound life continuum. At just 15, he lost his father, writer/poet/singer-songwriter Shel Silverstein. During his teenaged years, he also witnessed his mother struggle with alcoholism and, eventually, witnessed her recovery.
As a young man and an adult, however, Matthew set out on his own self-directed path to heal from his adolescence. He’s explored spirituality in many realms, including studying yoga, meditation, 12-step recovery, and sacred chant, among other paths. His solo debut, Surface Tension (A Tincture for Integrating Shadow), is a sonic portrait of Matthew from the formative years of 15-18, after his father’s death and during the depths of his mother’s struggle with alcoholism.
“In some ways, I feel as if I've spent the last 15 years healing from those few years,” Matthew says. “When you look at the shadow moments of life, you embrace your whole being, and then you can move through those painful times.”
Matthew’s 12-song album grooves deep and dives deeply into grief, loss, isolation, and healing. It’s a courageous and conceptual album loosely themed around the many properties of water. Lyrically, Surface Tension (A Tincture for Integrating Shadow) is rife with metaphorical ideas of undercurrents, shallow and deep plunges, and water’s unique ability to provide a surface that can hold objects (as in floating). And, musically, the compositions are crafted around a distinct watery keyboard sound Matthew developed that became the backbone of many of the album’s instrumentals.
Surface Tension (A Tincture for Integrating Shadow) imaginatively flows from rhythmic and accessible tunes, to slower and darker tracks with weightier subjects and themes. “It’s a healing journey,” Matthew explains. “You dive in, and come up from the water and start breathing again.”
The listener ascends into this healing journey via the album opener, “The Climb.” This jam’s breezy sensuality recalls the soulfully uplifting vibes inherent in Afrobeat, P-Funk, and Sun Ra, but filtered through a lush, slow-burn modern urban soundscape aesthetic.
Other album standouts include the first single, “The Gift & the Wound,” the follow-up single, “Water In The Well,” and “Where I Stand.” Lyrically, the winsome “The Gift & the Wound” is something of a centerpiece, snapshotting Matthew’s teenage years right after his father’s passing. Here, over a delicately textured composition, Matthew waxes nostalgically while flowing poetically about the juxtaposition of his carefree teenage years taking place in the shadow of his dad’s passing. The accompanying video captures Matthew’s Madison, Wisconsin world with an overlay of deeper meaning through juxtaposing urban imagery with nature imagery, offering deep symbolism around such elemental substances as water, stone, wood, and fire.
The glacially slow and sleek “Water In The Well” brims with layers of meaning. One possible interpretation is how couples are unconsciously attracted to the other’s pain, and, in their union, emotions come to the surface like water rising. The atmospheric R&B of “Where I Stand,” a track near the album’s end, offers a quiet confidence in healing and moving forward. “The image presented here is me standing in the water after the journey. I didn’t drown, and now, hopefully, I am ready to move forward,” Matthew reveals.
Grammy Award-winning engineer Russell Elevado (D’ Angelo’s Voodoo, The Roots, Erykah Badu, Common, and Bilal), known for his sonic warm bottom end and deft touch with ethereally soulful textures, mixed and mastered Surface Tension (A Tincture for Integrating Shadow). The album was mixed at the historic studio The Magic Shop (Lou Reed, David Bowie, Blondie, Norah Jones), and has the distinction of being one the last projects done at the esteemed studio before it closed permanently. The album features a host of in-demand NYC jazz and groove musicians, the most prominent being jam whiz John Medeski on organ and piano.
Braving the currents of Surface Tension (A Tincture for Integrating Shadow) has been deeply rewarding for Matthew. “The songs keep revealing so much to me; they’ve taught me a lot about myself,” Matthew says. “Now, I feel more secure, and I feel ready to move forward with the next album which will have more forward momentum and be more life affirming.”