Jake’s Jams: The Calm Before

Every other Thursday check out Jake’s Jams to see an album from any era, genre, or artist recommended by Jake Standerfer


On the surface level, most folk music can be summed up as simple. Composition remains linear, progressions predictable, and instrumentation repetitive. Diverging from predictability is what sets the progressive folk musician Matt Elliott apart from the mainstream of his genre.

The value of Matt Elliott does not come from his aptitude for elegant instrumentation, but rather, his ability to shape multi-dimensional composition into entire, independent emotions. In his most recent 2016 work, The Calm Before, Elliott takes a concrete idea (the calm nature and acceptance before the coming of a storm), and expands it into an arrayed expanse of varied hopes, shortcomings, and emotional contemplation. He arranges various orchestral and acoustic elements into a varied synthesis of spliced ups and downs.

The magic of The Calm Before can be boiled down to several key elements. First, Elliott harnesses his masterful compositional ability of pacing to fluctuate the sound and aesthetic of his music. In the title, centerpiece track, “The Calm Before,” Elliott directs the variety of stringed instruments in a pattern reminiscent of washing waves, and utilizes his voice to guide the music along a nostalgic journey. The song never grows boring, but drifts to full lengths at satisfying extents, instead resulting in a 14 minute track holding elements of adventure, mourning, inquiry, and a plethora of textures and sweeping instrumental bobs. It never loses purpose, and Elliott grabs the listener in every fading moment, stringing them back into the song.

Another element of Elliott’s prowess rests in his vocal and lyrical capability. For example, in “The Feast of St. Stephen,” Elliott holds a monotonous, rough edged mumble throughout, peaking in soft refrains that tickle the listener with a unique sort of harmony. His words sing of contradiction and shame, centered around the perpetuity of darkness. The voice and lyrics of the work hold synergy that amplifies the music to great levels of exposition.

Elliott has a certain element of control in his music. The emotions and facets of sound felt and heard within his work are very clear intentioned, and this command is an element to be sought after in a scene of imitation and repetition like that of today. Artists should look to Matt Elliott, and not for harmonic or melodic inspiration, but rather, for an idea of what originality can sound like.