What a fascinating addition to the multi-talented Matt Berry’s ever-growing catalogue of music “Music For Insomniacs” is. If you enjoyed his psych-prog-folk “Kill The Wolf” album from last year, there’s absolutely no guarantee that you’re going to like this one, I’m afraid. In fact, this music pre-dates much of “Kill The Wolf” as it was recorded (almost entirely by Berry apart from some vocals by Cecilia Fage) during bouts of insomnia between March and May 2012, hence the title, and is really quite different to the kind of music Matt is best known for so far in his career. Recorded on a huge range of classic synthesisers, electric pianos, Mellotron and organs and split into two movements (“Music For Insomniacs, Parts 1 & 2”), each around the twenty-three minute mark, the almost wholly instrumental “Music For Insomniacs” begins with a quick burst of choral music and then segues into a synth and organ line which sounds like a cross between Mike Oldfield and Bach. Immediately, I am struck by the gentle, calming nature of the music; this really is the kind of album that would soothe the proverbial savage beast. Or perhaps help with a bout of insomnia? Maybe not, as this album deserves a bit more of your attention than simply using it to lull you to sleep.
If you listen carefully, you can deduce that the first few minutes of music could be interpreted as classical variations on the “Kill The Wolf” opener, “Gather Up”. “Part 1” then goes forward as an ambient, sparse, chilled-out piece, utilising keyboard and organ sounds and a whole lot of space. There are even barely audible whisperings in the background, giving it a touch of early Pink Floyd. At the ten minute mark, the closest influence I could cite on the piece would be seventies Jean-Michel Jarre or “Low”-era Bowie as a wave of synthesisers build beautifully into a dramatic crescendo as background noises, such as doors closing and electronic bird calls, occasionally impede on the crests and falls of the undulating music. It’s truly rousing stuff. The eighteen minute mark sees the introduction of a theme that many Matt Berry fans will be familiar with, a light, whimsical version of “October Sun” which sounds like the kind of thing that could have appeared on an album by The Moog Cookbook.
“Part 2” begins with more “Oxgene”-era Jarre-like walls of shimmering synthesised sound which are coupled with bursts of rippling noises, allowing the listener to close his or her eyes and get lost deep within the calming music. At just before the five minute point, a rather mournful theme takes over which grows in momentum until it is joined by vocoder-enhanced vocals (again, virtually indecipherable), booming drums, ringing pianos and chiming bells, giving Mike Oldfield a run for his money in the ethereal prog-rock stakes. In the next passage, there is a Eno-esque expansive feel, bringing to mind either infinite space or, more likely by the sound effects which follow it, the ocean; either way, it’s grandiose and mesmerising. At approximately the nineteen minute point, the piece then transforms into an pleasant, upbeat theme aping Jean-Michel Jarre in his Caribbean phase, which fades out and brings the album to an eclectic conclusion.
In essence, this is a really enjoyable diversion from the usual music I am used to buying and listening to and it is really quite refreshing to hear an album like “Music For Insomniacs” released in 2014. Naturally, this isn’t going to be for everyone and I would recommend that, unless you’re extremely enthusiastic about buying it purely based on everything I have described, you should probably listen to samples before parting with your hard-earned money. This album of what can only be described as creative, inspired soundscaping is likely to be a bit of an acquired taste and something that you would need to be completely open to. It would be easy, for example, for someone with purely shallow tastes to label this as “boring” (although I really don’t know what such a person would be doing buying Matt’s music in the first place). I have to admit that this album is right up my street, both being a fan of Matt Berry’s music and someone who appreciates artists in a similar field to this release, such as Mike Oldfield, Sky, Jean-Michel Jarre and any others who fuse classical leanings together with prog-rock and electronica. Also, the more I have listened to it (I’m on my sixth playback right now), the more I enjoy it and appreciate the subtlety and intricacies of each passage, knowing how much detail and creativity has gone into it. Matt may be less than serious on our screens, but he’s most certainly a serious musician and this underlines his credentials as one of the most interesting and left-field artists making music right now. More, please.
Matt Berry’s “Music For Insomniacs” is out now on Acid Jazz Records.
Andy Sweeney, 28th May, 2014.