Matador, the latest record from down-tempo, electronica-pop duo Arms and Sleepers, often plays like a soundtrack. The songs are anything but "in-your-face," the instrumentation itself is delicate, and the dynamics are subtle. That's not to say it’s best utilized as background music for a film or a slide-show.
Instead, because of the strong musical themes that are present throughout, Matador effortlessly creates a slide show in the mind of the listener. I can easily imagine tender, emotional, and thoughtful cinematic scenes being played out as I listen to this record, and just as with a good book, the imagery comes quite easily.
The timing of the release date is perfect: this record sounds like fall transitioning into winter. Sonically, this record is as gentle and thought-provoking as the sounds of leaves shuffling along the sidewalk.
Virtually every song features an electronic beat and the overall tone-shifts of the record are extremely subtle. If there's one criticism to be made about this album, it’s that it oftentimes seems too homogeneous, like one long shape-shifting piece of music. Luckily, the album is relatively short, so it bows out before becoming too monotonous or predictable.
And there is most certainly variety among the songs. Sometimes the beats are punchy and could easily be re-imagined as a slow hip-hop jam (like on the title track, "Matador"). During other songs on the record (such as "Helvetica"), the beats are laid-back, serving as backdrops for multiple layers of sounds and words.
As I mentioned before, vocals are used sparingly. But the ones that do appear on the record (such as on the standout track, "Simone") are poetically cryptic, affected and seem to disappear into the mix. Most of the vocals are male, but the female guest vocals on "Architekt" present a welcome change of pace. Because of the conservative use of the vocals, they come across more like supporting instruments rather than the main focus of the songs.
Lewis and Ramic pair their beats with a variety of more traditional instruments, including piano, synthesizer, guitar, and upright bass. While this record is experimental and probably wouldn't fit into the Top 40 play-list, it’s by no means abrasive. It would undoubtedly intrigue--not offend--even the most sensitive ears.
On paper, this record seems as if it might have a tough time snagging the modern listener's ear. It's mostly instrumental, absolutely laid-back, and there aren't any up-tempo rock songs, sing-along choruses, or dancehall-beats. But despite all of these apparent challenges, Arms and Sleepers has made a record that is refreshing and engaging.
With Matador, Lewis and Ramic have succeeded in making an album where the beats and instrumentation are the stars rather than just the support for the melody and lyrics, which is no easy task. Even if this record were entirely sans-vocals, it would still have plenty to say.