Mattiel – Customer Copy
If Mattiel Brown’s debut album struck you as a little retro, wait’ll you hear this. Everything on her follow-up EP sounds excavated from the ruins of an after-hours scooter-zoomin’/pill-powered Mod/soul/R&B dance party in a 1965 London flat basement. In other words, it’s invigorating, wild, raucous and full of life. It’s deliberately recorded by band leaders/songwriters Randy Michael and Jonah Swilley (not by Shel Talmy or Mickie Most, as one might assume upon first listen) in a way to sound even dirtier and chunkier and a bit more off-balance-yet-spot-on than most comparable attempts by other acts to capture the magical mono-lithic ambiance of that electrifying era. Was this thing recorded on a two-track mixing board? I almost expected to hear pops and crackles purposely added on, for “authenticity.” Little about it, aside from the receipt on the front cover, bears much connection to Atlanta ca. 2018. And as things stand right now, that is a compliment.
Customer Copy certainly packs more kick ‘n’ punch than anything on 2017’s Mattiel, which was basically demos that had been recorded a few years earlier anyway. The six songs on this EP are zippier, bolder and more bangin’, with a stronger dose of good ol’ guitar-heavy garage rock. Down to the no-nonsense fade-outs, every damned one of them sounds like it should be bursting forth from the grooves of a 45 r.p.m. single. Brown’s natural impassive detachment that’s sometimes seemed a bit cold, weird or awkward in the past actually works in her favor here. Contrasting with the gnarly bluntness of the vintage sound, her soaring, piercing voice makes it all seem like it’s coming not only from another decade but from another dimension entirely.
Despite the clear attempts to mold the sound in olden ways, the lyrics are completely contemporary, and several veer in a topical/political direction without killing the mood like a podium lecture. A random verse in “East Coast Swing” involves buying an “assault rifle” at a pawn shop while on the federal government’s “no-fly” list. With lines like You got a silver spoon when you took your first step/ Yeah, it’s so much fun when you get upset, “Baron’s Sunday Best” is likely intended as some sort of lame dig at President Trump. A more general strike at the rich and spoiled, “Game Show” goes after bratty NY/LA social-climber phonies: Girl in the long white coat, she got 300K/ And all the time in the world to tap her phone all day/ And all they ever wanna know is, “What do you do?”/ Which is another way of asking if they’re better than you.
Drenched in thick organ and sporadically erupting electric guitar, the five-minute “Midwest Hotel” is a bluesy working-class lament and the EP’s longest song. The closing explosion, “Detroit Riot,” features Brown at her most fiery as she struggles to maintain her composure and dignity, let alone humanity, while trudging through the combustible tar-pit of urban life. I can certainly relate. Yet it’s “Follow My Name” that packs the most satisfying punch of this batch, its frisky drumbeat and jaunty bass propelling the potent undercurrent for a woo-ooh-oohing dancefloor-filling shindig punctuated by guitars, organ and horns, not to mention Mattiel’s brassiest vocal performance to date.
In fact, Brown’s delivery throughout Customer Copy is impeccable. The way she navigates across these pieces, craftily enunciating potentially awkward phrases, swimming through the verses with authority and aplomb, it just lends the whole affair an unmistakable air of mystery and panache. Make no mistake – she is now fully in command of her abilities. An approach like hers (and InCrowd’s) could be viewed as limiting, but it could just as readily be liberating. Consider how far Lana Del Rey’s taken a sound and image that also draws heavily from another faraway time long since faded, and yet she still sounds rather fresh. I know this: what Mattiel and her outstanding band are doing may be a bit calculated, but it’s not cloying or dumb or empty. As Customer Copy ably demonstrates, it’s actually mighty thrilling and magnetic.