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When things are right, they’re right; it’s rare that everything falls into place. It’s rarer still to capture that feeling on wax, which is what The Mattson 2 have achieved with their latest album, Paradise. It’s their second release on Chaz Bear’s (fka Chaz Bundick, aka Toro y Moi) Company Records, and first without Bear as a member of the band.
The identical twins, Jared (guitars) and Jonathan (drums), have left their trademark virtuosity on display; within the 32-minute runtime they’ve managed to capture the arc of an entire relationship between two people. You can tell from how warm the guitars sound - we go from emotional equilibrium to longing to happiness to loss. “For years and years you’ve been on my mind,” they sing, and mean it. When the Mattsons sing the line “you’re so special, you’re so easy” it’s easy to forget they’re not talking to you.
Even so, it’s a record to throw a frisbee to — it’s a sylphlike, sylvan thing, meant to be used and enjoyed. “We don’t want people to think too hard,” they say. “We want to let people in!” That’s perhaps because it’s the first album they’ve written and recorded in their home, which is a wooden cabin in the hills of San Diego. You can hear the sun in the keyboards, in the 80s-inflected jazz. The singing is new, too. What it adds up to is a bigger, bolder sound than their previous work; the brothers say they went into it trying out a conceptually new, cohesive sound — a new sonic palette to create from. It’s a little bit of summer you can savor all year long.
They’ve been playing shows for 15 years without any vocals; on Paradise, though, the twins have added their voices to the mix, which adds a welcome new human dimension to the record. “No matter how much someone loved the instrumental set they’d ask if we sang!” Jared said. Even so, the lyrics are meant to be abstract, to conjure a mood. If you listen closely you’ll be able to discern what the Mattson brothers are feeling. There’s longing, in songs that are about getting what you want and realizing it’s not actually the right thing; there’s lyrics about not being free, in both the capitalist system and in the creative one. There’s a song about a loved one dying from an overdose. There are deep themes here, even if the subjects are treated lightly.
On “Naima’s Dream,” which opens the album, the Mattsons lock into a buoyant melody; it sounds like the feeling of lying in a park on a carefree, sunny day, watching the dogs chase the people throwing frisbees in the distance. That feeling carries through the rest of the album, too; on “Essence,” which describes a relationship in progress. “You’re so special, you’re so easy,” the Mattsons sing over a lush guitar arrangement propelled by a truly grooving bass line.
The range of human experience is vast, and the Mattsons have managed to capture a piece of it in stunning detail. Being alive demands every kind of adjective: difficult, boring, fun, sustaining, affirming, renewing, reviving, strenuous, punishing, arbitrary, unfeeling, inconvenient, and everything in between. The slice that the Mattsons describe in this album is uniformly sweet, but inflected with the knowledge of how quickly things can change, and how, most of the time, it’s hard to recognize that they’re changing until the metamorphosis is already complete.