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Matt Longo of Thin Lear – Photo Credit: Shervin Lainez
In the cloud of a dream, sleeping brain churning in a cocktail of memory and melatonin, he wandered into a wooden cave. Deep within, bathed in soft blue light, a specific face hovered in the shadows…
Queens, NYC-based songwriter Matt Longo had always been drawn to the stories of forgotten eccentrics, but never haunted by their subjects. And yet, upon reading of 1920s occultist Netta Fornario, and her misunderstood end on a tiny island off of Scotland, he found himself dreaming of her on a consistent basis, often waking with a fleeting image of the woman.
Netta had inexplicably left her friends and family in search of magic… and lost everything. After many years of fronting bands, and then releasing several records under his own name, Matt felt an immediate empathy for her, and recognized her story as that of an artist.
Matt had recently been searching for a path forward, for a way to encapsulate a growing disillusionment with city-living, crumbling relationships, and self-imposed artistic pressures. His fixation on Netta, and her real or imagined visitations, provided him with a muse for his writing, and an outlet for an exploration on outcasts, death, and the hope that might remain in its wake.
Inspired by the immersive, idiosyncratic creative process of songwriters in the Elephant 6 collective, Matt wrote songs in all-night flurries of activity in his Astoria apartment. Pulling influence from the insular world of Astral Weeks, the melodic adventurousness of Harry Nilsson, and the eclecticism of Shuggie Otis, Matt aimed to create a set of songs existing on a sonic and lyrical island of their own.
He emerged with eleven tracks for his efforts; songs sprawling from ornate, warm ballads, psychedelically-tinged folk, and propulsive grooves, brimming with melody and heart. These creations have taken the form of the album Wooden Cave ,which Big Takeover is delighted to host the premiere of today, a week before it officially releases via EggHunt Records.
Wooden Cave is a two-year labor of love, and the debut album under his Thin Lear moniker. The LP was finally finished in mid-2019: the culmination of hauntings, of determined lyrical exploration, and of intense, intimate recording sessions that allowed each song its chance to bloom.
To record the album, Matt formed a loose collective of musicians, the bulk of whom cut their teeth for years in jazz and progressive music. Recording at studios throughout the city, often with different groups entirely, depending on the required feel of a track, Matt imbued his set of wide-eyed story-songs with a vivid palate of instrumentation: a lush quartet, a gleaming brass section, ethereal organs, and ghostly pedal steel, all backed by a kinetic rhythms.
The songs reveal different paths for their outcast narrators; the love, hope, despair, or danger awaiting them at the end of their journeys.
The frenetic “Maniacs,” with its relentlessly chugging pace, charts a desperate internet dweller’s alienation and pull towards cult-like thinking. The vivid “The Guesthouse” is a sweeping indie popper touched with tribal rhythms, jazzy horns, and waves of psychedelic organ.
In “A Simple Phrase,” backed by sweet, enveloping strings, Matt laments an ongoing, literal internal choir of insecurity, and how these voices can carry within generations of a family, before resolving to quiet them.
The title track sways with vintage chamber-pop orchestration, and swims in searching reflection. Matt sings with longing about reveries and love, his heartfelt vocals touched with a light tremble at times.
The album is book-ended by opener “Netta,” which puts the listener in the titular character’s world, walking us through her last days over shivering orchestration and a cathartic conclusion, and delicate acoustic guitar-and-strings ender “Your Family” that is rife with poignant lyrics about the bonds of familial love that remain unbroken even in death.
Wooden Cave, written for outsiders like Netta, radiates with a sonic glow that harks back to ’70s-era studio production, casting each track with a warm and rich sound, and a comforting familiarity, like a loving face seen in a dream.
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