CD Review: Mathieu Santos “Massachusetts 2010”

Massachusetts 2010 is Mathieu Santos’s – Ra Ra Riot’s bass player – first solo LP. This album is an effort in an original direction, playing with the idea of sonorous landscapes in an indie rock setting. He accomplishes this by setting very precise moods in each song, and by making the growth of the song more centered on the development of this mood rather than on drastic musical changes. This effect is realized mostly through the lyrical and musical structure of the songs with importance given to tones and how things sound. 

The lyrical content in this album is very sparse and mostly takes on the form of trance-like incantations instead of trying to get a precise message across. This works well on tracks like “(I Just) Need To Know” where the title is the only lyric, and also on “Northern Mentality” where the diction of ‘men-tality’ in the chorus is very interesting. The only other lyrics in the latter song, ‘You die when you’re gonna die, what else can you do?’ are pretty straight forward and interesting, highlighting the survivalist nature of living somewhere in the north. Sometimes though, the minimalist lyrical approach falls short of achieving the desired effect, like in “I Said So” where ‘I, I said so. Said, I said so. So, I said so’ just seems too simplistic and repetitive.

Throughout Massachusetts 2010, the musical content dominates the lyrical content.  Musically, the album is very well arranged. Rhythmically, there is a really good balance between a solid drum groove and orchestrated percussive elements like in “Massachusetts,” which is a song that’s carried by the kick, hats and rim shots but where bell hits on the ride, wooden blocks and various other percussion add a great dimension.

Mathieu being a bass player, it is natural that a lot of the bass lines seem to really determine the chord progressions instead of only supporting by, for example, following a guitar line. In fact, songs like “I’d Go” and “(I Just) Need To Know” are musically reminiscent of Brian Wilson’s musical ideas, with a minimalist take on harmonic progressions and arrangements. The bare sound that this approach creates is more refreshing than empty; it gives the listener time to breathe and to appreciate the subtleties of the melodies and rhythms.

Another very notable aspect of Massachusetts 2010 is the overall tone. The bass tone, though it varies in most songs, generally has an authentic, warm and punchy feel to it. Also notable: the guitar tones in songs like “I Can Hear The Trains Coming” and “I Just Need To Know” and the percussion sounds, especially in “Massachusetts,” are really well researched. Together with Mathieu’s vocals and the other instruments, they give the album a great production sound and make simply listening to the tones an interesting experience.

As a general trend, Massachusetts 2010 starts off strong, but the songs tend to slowly lose their effectiveness on the listener as the album progresses, but there are exceptions to this like “Northern Mentality,” which is one of the stronger songs and has a great dissonant saxophone part near the end. This isn’t to say that the musical ideas of the later songs are less effective, but because the songs are generally built around one idea that sets a mood and highlights a continuous repetition of certain motifs and patterns, there is a tension created that doesn’t get resolved.

Instead, after reaching this type of tension, the songs usually fade out, like in “Good Return Theme” and “Massachusetts.” This unresolved tension is confirmed as a conscious motif with the final song, “Where To Find Her,” which cuts out abruptly when the listener might be saying to him or herself, ‘Here it is, here comes the big conclusion I’ve been waiting for!’ The effect is interesting in individual songs, but having the effect applied to the whole collection causes a lack of catharsis and this takes away some of the satisfaction sought out after listening to an album.

Check out the album yourself here!