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November 2006

Matthew Herbert
Scale

Matthew Herbert is an ideologue. Like Lars von Trier did with his Dogme 95 rules for filmmaking, Herbert constructed the Personal Contract for the Composition of Music (Incorporating the Manifesto of Mistakes) in 2000. He doesn’t allow himself to use synthesizer presets, samples of other music or synthesized sounds that imitate instruments. Instead, like musique concrète, Herbert builds his luxuriant electronica albums by making samples—720 appear on Scale—from numerous sound sources and then warps them into melodies and rhythms.

While all that might be interesting to the eggheads, listeners are more likely to care about the results of the process, not the process itself. Well, dear listener, this egghead says you will be happy with Scale if you’re a fan of Prince, disco, art rock and experimental electronica.

Many of the songs sound like the vocals have been influenced by Prince, especially the discofied “Moving Like a Train,” where higher- and lower-pitched crooning surround Dani Siciliano’s middle-register singing. The music is generally string-heavy (or whatever it is Herbert is using to imitate strings), giving the CD a plush harmonic bed.

The rhythms groove but it’s the melodies and voices that dominate. This serves Herbert’s political purposes on songs like “The Movers and the Shakers,” which features the lyrics, “I just don’t know how to bring about your downfall/Damn fool/Go figure out/ How those Christian bones/Can orchestrate/Shock and awe.” Because the words are cooingly sung by Siciliano and Neil Thomas, you might think you’re listening to a love song and not a condemnation of the Bush administration. It’s another example of Herbert’s skill at turning things inside out, taking one meaning or sound and twisting it into another.

Originally published in November 2006
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