written by Chris Familton
Dark folk music has been receiving a lot of attention over the last decade, perhaps as a response to the rise of shiny indie music. Introspection never really goes out of fashion, even if it morphs into different forms over time and Matt Bailey’s solo debut takes the template and weaves its own style with consummate skill. A former member of Lee Memorial and Gaslight Radio, Bailey has embraced his inner muse, stripped his songs back to their essence, recruited friends to contribute sparse instrumentation and released a quiet grower of an album.
The Three I’s is essentially folk music with dashes of gothic americana thrown into the mix. Fleetingly upbeat it exists for the most part as stark and haunting drones and ragas with simple repetition as the key to the mood and atmosphere Bailey creates. Circling organs and flutes add a neo-classical vibe, pastoral even – especially on Young Men Are Easy Prey with it’s Nick Drake allusions. The droning organ of Whitey is a wonderful balance to Bailey’s bright acoustic strum as he sings with a J. Tillman desolation.
By bringing in fellow musicians to add texture to the songs Bailey avoids the single dimension of the singer songwriter and without percussion on most tracks he has enabled the songs to appear weightless and suspended in space and time. He is happy for the music to meander and stray off the beaten track in order for it to find its own voice, in it’s own time.
Bailey’s voice is one of the keys to his appeal. He possesses a mumbling, creaking quality that sounds lived in, weary and worn – not dissimilar to Bon Iver without the backwoods falsetto. His economic way with words and melody sets him aside from many in the freak folk pack by not shading his intent and themes. He sings directly though still retaining an elegantly poetic form.
Self analysis, self belief and personal identity are all central to The Three I’s, highlighted by the song Papers where he sings ‘gotta find piece of mind’ and on the quicker shuffle of Lonely Little River – ‘I don’t look like no-one anymore’. By juxtaposing the melancholic mood with positive themes he has produced a wonderfully balanced album that doesn’t get weighed down in wallowing self pity.
this review first appeared on The Dwarf