Back in the day, Matt Elliott unknowingly helped me through some rough times. While treading through a semi-scattered and elongated period of self-doubt and confusion during post college-graduation years, I discovered the music of Third Eye Foundation. It was in those early releases of Semtex, Ghost, and You Guys Kill Me that he mixed together both despair and hope along with awkward beauty and violence. It was unsettling, somewhat awkward music, yet it hit me just right at the time.
On his subsequent releases, he toned the noise down a bit and honed things into an even more unique batch of sounds. Little Lost Soul was a melancholy treat mixing lonely ghostly voices with smooth breakbeats, while I Poo Poo On Your Juju was a hugely successful batch of remixes that ended up being his final piece of work under the moniker. Twas only awhile back that Elliott said he was going to stop making music under that name, partially due to becoming a father, and partially to move onto other things. It was pretty clear at the time that he would continue working on music, but I wasn't expecting him back in the game so quickly.
Looking across his entire catalogue of music, The Mess We Made is a fairly logical step in the sequence of things, despite the notable changes. For one, Elliott has almost completely gotten rid of the beat programming. While it crops up in a couple places (to welcome ears), The Mess We Made is almost devoid of any percussion. In addition, a majority of tracks on this release have vocals by Elliot and/or others. That said, it's still nothing quite like you could imagine. It's one of the most off-kilter albums that I've heard in quite some time, with nearly every vocal track filtered and pitch-bent while melodies on the disc are mostly slow-moving and courtesy of piano. In short, it's one of the most disturbing orchestral albums you'll hear.
The disc opens with "Let Us Break," and multiple vocal parts sweep across a barren horizon like heat-distorted reflections while piano chords ring out underneath. In time, horns and strings drift in with female vocals before the whole thing is swept along with a drunken chime melody. Given the cover artwork that looks like a cross between The Brothers Quay and Jan Svankmajer, it's perfectly fitting. "Also Ran" follows it with more haunting layers of vocals that sway behind a keyboard melody. About halfway through, the track pops off with a little click-hop beat and a playful melody before dropping back off into a sedate piano.
Over the course of 8 long tracks, Elliott mostly takes his time in getting places, but that's part of the fun. The album has so many things going on within that you'll pick out new things with each listen. "The Dog Beneath The Skin" is one of the most straightforward tracks on the release, starting out with a very pretty piano refrain and harmonized vocals before things slowly start to come unraveled and eventually come crashing into a somewhat noisy conclusion. At very nearly the mid-point on the album, on the album-titled track of "The Mess We Made," the disc comes closest to resembling previous work by the Third Eye Foundation. After a build in a somewhat familiar vein as previous songs (layering of vocals, upright bass, and piano), he drops a huge jungle beat and the track sprints to the finish.
Those hoping for more of the same will be somewhat disappointed with the release, as that's one of the only moments of obvious release. The rest of the disc is content to slowly carve out a deep atmospheric gully and swim around in it. "The Sinking Ship Song" takes its title literally and mixes the creaking of a boat and the sound of the wind and sea with a choir of drunken singers on an absolutely twisted sea-shanty. Even though it's one of the most boisterous songs on the release, there are also a whole batch of subtleties going on within the track, as on nearly the entire 53 minute running time. While the overall quiet of the release would have probably somewhat frustrated me in the past, I find it a welcome progression now and welcome Elliott back into things.