The Abstract Convention is the newly released debut album by Mattic; an emcee from the United States who now resides in France. It sees the artist collaborate with producer duo Dirty Art Club for an auditory trip across seas, through dreams and into outer space…
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Upon hitting play on the first track “Here Comes Time”, the listener is greeted by what is possibly a variant model of the fem-bot host of Midnight Marauders. I don’t doubt that this was deliberate, both as a nod to the monotone narrator and also as a means to put listeners who make the link into a nostalgic submission hold.
Mattic (pictured right) enters providing a lyrical exposition to his migration evoking thoughts of the archetypal “man with no name” who rides into town with obvious, but ominous, skills getting funny looks from the locals. In true style, Mattic commands the mic from the get-go and displays said skills; exalting his syllable-loaded, internal-rhyme laden lyricism “wonderful entity, musical-minded eulogy who write the smartest foolery you and me thought we’d never see”. In between, the hook again revisits some Tribe material continuing the homage.
Influences from the Abstract Poetic don’t stop there however; Mattic fills his lyrics with a lot more of just that – abstract poetry. Whilst this makes for interesting listening it can get pretty complex and, like me, you may fumble through his train of thought on the first few listens, experiencing a fragmented sequence of imagery as opposed to the fluid narrative Mattic would like to put across. However, once you get the hang of things you’ll find Mattic is at his most engaging when he’s exhibiting his dextrous wordplay (check “The Abstract Convention”), at his most rousing when breaking the societal shackles (check “Beautiful and Dirty”) and at his most perplexing when unfolding a surprise succubus subplot (check “Before I Caught A Train”) – the Freddy Krueger references intermittently dropped prior to this track suddenly gain a prophetic quality. I’ll leave the details of that for your own listening, but it’s true to say the album has strong elements of the supernatural to it, whether it’s references to Wes Craven flicks or a poltergeist in the emcees pen. Much like Mattic’s general rhyme content, this all serves to add a great richness to the album and keeps the listening experience unpredictable as we walk a fine line between the tangible and the meta-physical.
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For all its commendable idiosyncrasies, The Abstract Convention still manages to tick the generic boxes of having a party jam (“Live From Neuchatel”) and a love song (“We Met In Paris”), although the latter disassociates into the aforementioned sub-plot. Some may consider this filler material but the quality of rhymes and production never make it obvious. In fact, hearing Mattic on his “MC in the place to be” delivery makes for a great intermission halfway though the album and shows his versatility as an emcee. Elsewhere on “Tomorrow Is Forever” we’re given a breakneck-speed trip through Europe as Mattic tells tales of his journeys whilst making music, ending “Back in Normandy I’m sitting on my balcony thinking to myself with the city right in front of me/ Lab decorated with the cockpit of a star ship on the hunt for Betelguse” – one of many celestial references; we also return to the red giant later on the final track… “Red Giant”.
Production-wise, the album is stunning; my hat goes of to Dirty Art Club (pictured left) who lay down the perfect canvasses for Mattic. Many times it’s reminiscent of greats like Dilla and Madlib, and I’m not dropping these names for lack of a better comparator – it really does evoke their sensibilities; there’s even a Lord Quas doppelganger that pops up on “The Abstract Convention”. I wouldn’t affix the label of “copycat” though; these guys clearly make things their own, switching between more stripped-down production and sounding like they have an entire orchestra at their command. Traditional aspects such as horns and string arrangements are crafted immaculately whilst the hip-hop staples of scratches and delay effects are used in good measure to great effect. The hooks are generally left void of elemental rhymes, instead providing space for more instrumentation such as the cascade of clashing cymbals on “We Met In Paris”.
In all, we have a solid album that’ll go down favourably with those who like their emcee’s abstract and their production layered. Mattic shows a great versatility all under 30 minutes, and it’ll be interesting to see where he applies his skills next. Whether a more grandiose project or a low-key effort, I can see him making a dope product anywhere on the spectrum.
The Abstract Convention is out now on Phonosaurus Records; CD, vinyl and digital available.