Words by Sean Moeller, Illustration by Johnnie Cluney, Recording engineered by Mike Gentry
They have those tee-shirts in Austin - you can get them at the airport the second you land there - that stress the importance of keeping Austin weird. Now, we're sure there are some strange things that happen in Austin, if you're there at the right times. We've seen some disgusting exhibitions by a dirty homeless women with a hole in her crotch - with a steady stream of SXSW revelers flowing by - and we've seen all of those chickens in people's yards, but we've not seen anything much weirder than that. We've never hung out with the Butthole Surfers or Roky Erickson and we've only spent a few hours with a sedate and well-fed Daniel Johnston, so we can't speak to those certifiably weird people. Either way, it's easy to find that Austin is just a cool city with some fine watering holes and places to take a dip. We would like to make a suggestion for a city to the north of Austin. Denton, Texas, could get away with selling shirts that said, "Keep Denton Weirder."
There's proof of this in the music of a few of the bands that call the place home. Go ahead and listen to a Midlake album and tell us it's not weird - in all kinds of wonderful ways. We were all immediately smitten with the weirdness. We found nothing at all wrong with it, but it was weird nonetheless. Moving on to the subjects at hand here - Matthew & The Arrogant Sea - and we're met by another clutch of weirdness in the form of songs that are meant for those with such specific, yet broad tastes. They are the tastes of the eccentrics and those who devour record albums and mildewed books as if there were no tomorrow. There are references upon references and many of the places that the songs take us are tangential and require us to do much of the additional thinking needed to come to the conclusions of what we're supposed to be feeling. We're supposed to come up with our own meanings because few are forthcoming from the active and meandering mind of lead singer Matthew Gray.
This is the weird that comes from someone with a tuned-in brain that sidesteps the obvious and makes terrifically melodic and dense studies in idiosyncratic lives. It's the weird that you get when you're at peace with your weirdness, not the kind you get if you're completely unaware that there's anything at all odd about you. Gray seems like he could be a television and cinema junkie as well, pulling in ideas and fragments of ideas that suggest a short attention span, but one that's hungry for more content to mess around with. He sings of "Martian petting zoos" and romanticizes about standing around and holding hands as he and some her "looked at the submarines."
One of the most intriguing things that Matthew & The Arrogant Sea does is it shirks generalities. No one is just coming to see someone. They're riding a broken bicycle. No one's doing anything that we normally think about, or are giving in other songs. These are very specific relics of something real and extremely graphic that happened, or tremendous musical novellas that have beginnings, middles and ends and hearts and souls that are plump, weird and delicious.
*Essay originally published December, 2011