The title of Mattiel’s second full-length album, Satis Factory, is somewhat apropos. She’s like the fore(wo)man of a hot smoking powerhouse, systematically cranking out jukebox sermons for the masses at a microdosed Bicentennial cookout.
The growth of confidence between her releases is visible exponentially here. She has traded some of the wit for a little more spunk. This new attitude suggests that she wants to be taken more seriously, and the music backs her argument. Don’t get me wrong though, the Mattiel-weird is still a part of this new concept in songs like “Food For Thought.” Given that it’s a pseudo-misnomer on the album with its tone, it’s more direct in its motive than her earlier quirks. The song seemingly takes a couple stabs at what she sees as the corruption of Christianity, a religion she associates with a sort of conservatism, and its strict ways of living being catatonic as opposed to purifying. She also reckons with corruption in other institutions like media and show-business. Whether these claims are righteous or not, it’s always good to stir the pot a bit to in order be seen as a vigilante for various justices. Power to her.
These themes are reflected perfectly by the overcast album cover. You can feel the disposition Mattiel feels as she stands slightly off-center with this monster of a factory behind her. She has officially entered the music business, and the bigger she gets, the smaller she ends up feeling. The perspective has absorbed her, but through the face of doubt she trudges on. This against-all-odds attitude is what makes the album. It’s in the driving force of the drums, propelling you headfirst into every song. By staying with the same band, Mattiel risks monotony but instead exhibits growth on nearly all musical accounts. The mix is significantly different and the style of playing has seen an evolution. The sound has become cleaner overall, the instruments have become more passionate. Mattiel has naturally added a little gain to her voice. The power has come from within, and it makes for a more genuine listen.
Another key flavor surely stems from Mattiel’s appeal throughout Europe. After gaining notoriety over there, she’s booked back-to-back tours. It was bound to affect the music. Songs like “Je Ne Me Connais Pas” grab Euro-nostalgia straight out of a prime Jacques Dutronc album, and “Berlin Weekend” ironically has that Bringing It All Back Home feel with the whimsical lyrics, “It’s just too much fun to forget where you’re from.”
While there is definitely love from across the pond, fret not, for the South is strong with this one. Although I’m not getting much of a Peach State sound, there are tinges of Delta roots and some Nashville tonk. The percussion in the opener, “Moment of Death,” has a rattlesnake bite charmed by Mattiel’s Norma Tanega-style delivery. My favorite song on the album, “Blisters,” is a bright and breezy dream of candy-coated coupe country, less Dolly/Loretta, more Cash. Every lyric is a declaration with Mattiel. She conveys strength with words. Nothing is more defiant and courageous than ending the song with “Now I’m finished” as the fluttering piano and accompanying drum stroll out into the horizon. The representation of the American classic reaches further into both the flowery aspect of the ’60s with “Populonia,” a Grace Slick-esque bop that calls for naked mud dancing (without the murder tents), and the more pop-artsy side of the decade with “Millionaire.”
Artists rarely release as a single what they consider their most important song on an album. They put out the most attainable tracks as singles, and leave their key song rooted in the album for discovery, rather than be heard by itself ahead of time. I believe “Millionaire” is the song that Mattiel wants to represent this album. She’s at her most honest, vocalizing her fears as if she’s seeking advice from the listener. The line, “Did you expect a guarantee, working in that Satis Factory?” represents everything she’s trying to get across, a perfect little encapsulation of her big idea. The background vocals are definitely mixed with the Velvets in mind, and the bleak vocals remind me of that certain chanteuse who used to share their spotlight during the Warhol days.
I admittedly tend to not like a lot of things on first listen; only after further listening do I end up forgiving or even favoring the first holes I once poked. Is this my genuine adaptation to sonic decisions of the songwriters or subconscious implementation of bias? You can make your own inferences. Nevertheless, this album has really grown to my liking. It truly gets better with every listen. There’s a lot that’s new in the world of Mattiel, reflected in the vibe of Satis Factory: different vocal methods, new influences on her shoulder, a continuous shift in surroundings and a bold attitude that will keep her head above the water. Who’s to say what the next release will do for her, but this midsummer scorcher proves that she’s got what it takes to surprise us yet again.