habit Formation is the sophomore album by Matt Donovan, released almost a year to the day from his excellent debut solo album Underwater Swimming. Matt, as a drummer, has been the powerhouse behind a number of bands over the years from indie band Rayon to the leftfield duo of The Untied Knot. But, throw a paper plane in a crowded room, and it’s likely to land on a drummer or guitarist whereas Matt transcends his skill as a drummer and demonstrates he is an all round musician. He does everything on this album: bass, keyboards, guitar, drums and percussion, vocals and he also recorded, mixed and produced it too.
Donovan is a musical chameleon who goes where the song takes him and, as with Underwater Swimming, this album is a delicious buffet of styles that encompasses rock bravado, pop sweetness, the acoustic and the electronic, plus plenty of psychedelic swirls stirred in for good measure. The opening track, ‘black crow’ has the clanging swagger of Black Grape with high/low vocals bouncing over the swing of the drums. ‘we learn’ and ‘dappled light’ offer up sweeping cinemascope vistas that shimmer with strings and crystal guitars. ‘the focus’ rumbles along like a goods train, laden with electronic swooshes and those fantastic gooey 80s synth sounds, all supporting a hypnotic vocal line. ‘erebus’ (in Greek myth Erebus is the personification of darkness and the offspring of Chaos) bubbles along like the river Styx on undulating tom toms and speaks of the darkness that lurks in all of us. ‘a quiet goodbye’ is an acoustic guitar-led song which seems to float untethered, full of warmth with the beautifully understated feel of Nick Drake’s home recordings, and the closing track ‘grasshopper’ is an arpeggiated behemoth that could overheat the Chemical Brothers sound and light show.
habit formation is a masterclass in how to craft songs by populating them with the perfect sound in the perfect place. The brain craves the familiar but also loves to be tickled by something unexpected and, whether it’s the whoosh, stab or coruscating solo of a guitar, a keyboard flourish or bubbling synth, the susurration or stampede of drums, this album is filled with hundreds of dopamine hits to keep your grey matter smiling for days. The album also has an overarching message of hope in the face of adversity and sadness and I’ll leave the last word to the track ‘black crow’: “With a little more love, things will get better”. Amen!
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Review by Paul F Cook