Saltillo: Ganglion
Suspicious Records

Suspicious Records judges Saltillo's debut disc Ganglion as “quite possibly the finest release we have ever heard.” One presumes that such hyperbole is intended with tongue at least partially in cheek because it sets up absurdly high expectations that Menton J. Matthews' project can't possibly match, no matter how finely-crafted it is. And that it certainly is: five years in the making, the release is an extremely personalized labour of love with the classically-trained Matthews (aka Sunday Munich) contributing violin, cello, viola, piano, guitar, bass, banjo, and electronics to the project (other than vocals by Matthews' wife Sarah and Michael Holcomb on four songs, Ganglion is entirely a solo affair).

A palpable sense of loss and longing pervades the album, a mood established by the melancholic tone of the compositions and reinforced by the voice samples (Matthews threads dramatic spoken word passages, often of a poetic or scholarly nature, throughout the work, boosting its cinematic aura) and the mournful character of the strings. Even so, the album's mood may be melancholic but it's far from meek with Matthews opting for a heavy and visceral trip-hop-drum & bass fusion on many songs. In the promising opener “A Necessary End,” strings somberly saw before a trip-hop groove and Sarah's haunting whisper appear, while “Remember Me?” cleverly pairs countrified banjo riffing with thunderous beats. The closing “002 F#m” re-affirms how effective an understated arrangement of piano and strings can be.

The disc is far from perfect, however. In “Giving In,” Sarah's singing recalls one-time Cranberries vocalist Dolores O'Riordan during the chorus (a shame given that the song otherwise impresses, especially its slide guitar playing), and in “I'm on the Wrong Side” her voice resembles Beth Gibbons and Louise Rhodes a little too baldly. Matthews exploits the speaking voice samples idea to excess, and the titular sample on “A Hair on the Head of John the Baptist” resurrects unwanted memories of Moby's Play; adding Sufi singing to the otherwise affecting “Grafting” also seems a too-obvious ploy. In the long run, it's hardly surprising that Ganglion doesn't live up to Suspicious Records' billing but, whatever the caveats, Matthews deserves credit for attempting an unusual and idiosyncratic hybrid.

August 2006