Matt Elliot has been creating music for well over a decade now, first as a loose member of the group Flying Saucer attack and then starting nearly ten years ago under the name Third Eye Foundation. His releases have always been a somewhat despairing mixture of dark samples and heavy drum programming, but on his last release The Mess We Made, he started making large steps away from his earlier output (as well as releasing work under his real name for the first time).
On that release, he backed away from the breakbeat outbursts even more and honed in on actual organic instrumentation and even ventured into including vocals on his track. The result of which was an album that still had many of his moody trademarks (like eerie, pitch-bent instruments and vocals), but touched on new genres like Eastern European folk music. It was a welcome change of listening (despite my enjoyment of his past work) and showed that he was moving beyond boundaries that anyone may have set for him.
Drinking Songs is an even further and logical continuation from the sound of his previous album, and finds Elliot relying even less on filtering and electronics. On the release, Elliot plays a wide variety of instruments (acoustic and electric guitar, vibes, , piano, bass) and is joined by others playing cello and trumpet. The vocals are even more prominent in the mix, and the result is just what you might expect given the title of the release and the direction he hinted at on the previous release with songs like "The Sinking Ship Song."
The release opens with "C.F. Bundy" a long, creepy instrumental that bobs and weaves without any percussion, and actually just sort of morphs into the shorter second track "Trying To Explain," which finds Elliot layering multiple vocal parts, playful electric piano, and electric guitar that give it a feel similar to what you'd expect from Tom Waits. "The Guilty Part" and "The Kursk" both continue the bar-song sing-along style tracks (with the exception of the startling sound effects which open the latter track) that focus on haunting themes. Unfortunately, the tracks both mimic each other (and other tracks on the release) structuraly, progressing naturally and appealingly before sort of stalling out about halfway through and relying on backwards tracking and effects to close out.
The above is unfortunate, because the tracks needn't be needlessly long and Elliot is plenty good at keeping some dynamics on the release and writing concise songs without resorting to gimmicks. "What's Wrong" is a perfect example of this, mixing accordion, guitar, piano, and multiple layers of vocals (again, adding to the sing-along effect) into a sad lament on the state of the world that quotes one of Ghandi's most famous lines. Although the liner notes state that it should be viewed as a piece unrelated to the album itself, the twenty-minute closer of "The Maid We Messed" is another fine example of what Elliot has to offer. The track opens with slow progressions of layered instrumentation before careening wildly with growling basslines and heavy drum programming. The result is one of the strongest tracks that he's done on his past several albums and a huge punctuation mark on the somewhat uneven Drinking Songs. Here's hoping he can bridge the two sides of his work even more powerfully on his next effort.