Singer/songwriter Matthew Santos was unexpectedly thrust into the spotlight in 2008 when he collaborated with rap artist Lupe Fiasco on the hip hop hit, Superstar. His voice may be instantly recognizable, but the rest of his musical work is a far cry from pop hip hop. Largely folk-based, Santos’ style over the six albums he has produced has evolved to contain more and more jazz. His just-released seventh full-length album, Into the Further, showcases his songwriting skills and brings a jazzy take and somewhat experimental elements to the growing genre of indie folk.
Santos started on this multi-faceted indie folk path prior to his collaboration with Fiasco on Superstar. When the single took off, his solo work was somewhat derailed in the face of touring and the media blitz that followed the song’s Grammy nominations. Santos’ first releases, As a Crow Flies and Matters of the Bittersweet, released in 2006 and 2007 respectively, were a little more straightforward folk than later efforts, falling along the lines of Bon Iver and Matt Corby. It is possible that because of his experience in the spotlight, he decided to take more chances in his music post-Fiasco.
Burning Ship of Fools, released in 2010, was the first album by Santos after he stepped back from the pop scene. Songs like Daughter of the Sun started to showcase the unique angle the songwriter was looking to take. Jazz elements in this song involve the syncopation and blues piano one might notice in a Harry Connick, Jr. work, along with a peculiar, yet expertly-crafted, operatic bridge. Since then, he has developed this quirky style of indie folk by folding in even more unexpected genres like disco, house, waltz, cha-cha and even hip hop. With all these styles and sounds, it might be more apt to call his music “kitchen sink folk” than indie folk.
Santos has developed a cult following for his unconventional style, and his live shows have become legendary, as he often performs solo with a series of effects pedals, loops and even beatboxing to create the different parts of his music live. Into the Further is the first album where he has once again worked, and might possibly be touring with, a band. With his new trio in place, he has been able to bring even more complex and experimental sounds, and a heavy focus on jazz, into his music.
Into the Further starts with a short intro title track which features some ethereal vocals, but mostly contains fast, Miles Davis-like jazz. Chicago Jazz drumming legend Jon Deitemyer features heavily on the album, as does bassist Emma Huff, and they definitely have an influence on the experimental jazz feel of this track. Ojos, the second track, is another all-instrumental, heavily folk-tinged track which features another surprising thing Santos is known for – beatboxing.
As the album rolls on, Santos goes with more standard folk on songs like Under the Microscope, It All Works Out and White Gloves. On these tracks, what sets him apart is his frenzied, almost balalaika-like guitar playing and his passionate vocals. Many modern folk artists like Bon Iver have mellow, whisper-quiet vocals, but Santos’ vocals are apologetically powerful – somewhat akin to Dave Matthews on his later works or Jeff Buckley.
Towards the end of Into the Further, some of the tracks start to sound a bit similar; heavy on the folk but little else. End of the Pipeline ushers in some different features once again, however, with a sort of lounge jazz feel and lots of accompaniments. The album closes with And Now the Leap, a compliment to and continuation of the intro track which seems to indicate the end of the cycle which gave birth to this album and to introduce the next phase for Santos, whatever that may be.
Some of the jazz and experimental elements seem to be on the lighter side on Into the Further, but the quality of composition is definitely still there. Now, having partnered with his jazz trio, it is likely that the jazz will start to become more prominent again in future endeavors. Santos is a bit of a mad scientist when it comes to his interesting brand of folk, however, so there really is no telling where he might go next. All of the artist’s releases are available for stream and purchase on his website, listed below in “Sources.”
Review by Layla Klamt
Bandcamp.com: “Matthew Santos”
Images courtesy of Matthew Santos’ press kit