Matt Christensen: A Cradle in the Bowery
Under The Spire

A Cradle In The Bowery spotlights an altogether different side of Matt Christensen than the work he's issued as part of the Chicago outfit Zelienople, even though awareness of his membership within the band sets up some expectations about how the album might sound. His first solo outing is structured along more conventional vocal song-based lines than that favoured by the group, for starters, though Christensen doesn't stint on the atmospheric dimension of the solo material. Dedicated to his daughter, the forty-minute release presents seven songs one might describe as late-night folk ballads and entrancing incantations, and that nocturnal vibe is strengthened by the haze out of which the songs seem to materialize. The recording was written and performed entirely by Christensen, except for contributions from John Twells (aka Xela and Type label head), who added backing vocals to “Drugged” and organ to “Now You Have Won / I'm The One” (and with whom Christensen collaborated for 2010's vinyl release Coasts on Digitalis Recordings), and Pete Jørgensen, who contributed post-production to what generally comes across as an intimate, bedroom-styled recording.

The album features sparsely arranged pieces for guitars and vocals, with myriad other sounds sometimes seeping in (harmonica, organ) as added colour. Often tinged with echo and reverb, Christensen's singing voice is generally unassuming but perfectly fine for the material in question, as it functions more as a natural part of the musical fabric than something designed to inhabit the forefront. The material deviates from its folk emphasis during “Simple Lives Mean Nothing” when a bruising electric guitar bleeds raw distortion over the tune's otherwise well-behaved vocal and guitar lilt, and occasional traces of Zelienople's sound emerge, such as the electric guitar twang and snarl that haunts the slow-burning “Already Found” and the ambient shudder that floods the background of the sleepy folk serenade “Now You Have Won / I'm The One.” That the project's a mature and heartfelt one for its creator is borne out by lyrics like “If I grew up with you that would be wrong…” (“Daddy”) and a liner note that reads “Thanks to the aging process and fatherhood.” His daughter's birth clearly has had a profound effect on Christensen, as one would well expect it to. 

June 2011