The first mutterings about this album began as Christmas petered out last year. Domino Records had pulled off another excellent licensing job on a below the radar country/soul/funk/pop/rock/whoknowswhat album that had been released in the US in 2012. I’d never heard of Matthew E. White, but it appeared that was going to change. Being an impatient twonk, I ordered the original pressing from the Hometapes label in Oregon and the LP arrived just as heavy snow hit the South West, in the middle of January this year. I can still remember dropping the needle for the first time as the glare of reflected sun bossed the window next to my turntable and thinking that it seemed a pretty perfect scenario for a debut listen.
No longer a best kept secret, ‘Big Inner’ has, quite rightly, had praise lavished upon it for the entirety of 2013. It is an emphatic record, persuasive in its nature, reflective in its lyrics and euphoric in its melodies. Occupying a territory somewhere between Randy Newman and Bill Callahan, produced by Al Green during his ‘obsessed with ‘Screamadelica’ phase, this is an album to play loud and often. While snow certainly gives it a decent bit of mise-en-scene, it’s far from compulsory. ‘One Of These Days’ simply starts, as if this music is always playing somewhere, and we’re just tuning in every so often. Like many of the seven tracks on the album, it builds slowly and ornately, brass and choirs all playing their part. ‘Big Love’ seems to shudder into action, propelled forth from there by its irresistible bass line and wide-panned percussion. The Hot Chip remix is worth seeking out as it takes all the best bits of the song and gets another three minutes out of them. The vintage feel of the record’s string arrangements is enchanting, giving it the aura of a classic as soon as you meet, and highlighting the organic knitting together of influences and ambition.
‘Big Inner’ is a singular record that feels like an unfathomable vision being poured out into the grooves. Its quirks are also its finest qualities, and White’s insatiable taste for genres and styles seems utterly sincere. The occasional diversions into jazzier terrain are wonderful and the loose, brooding two minutes appended to the swirlingly wintery ‘Hot Toddies’ provide a fascinating bridging point for album closer ‘Brazos’, which itself sticks around for almost ten minutes. Its devotional tone ensures a celebratory feel from the off, but each time the brass riff kicks in and the drums skitter about is a genuine thrill. The mantra-driven second half is relentlessly soulful and gives the gift of gospel music to bearded indie-kids everywhere. ‘Big Inner’ is a remarkable album for a, ahem, be-ginner, and you have to wonder where he can go next. But, for now, just as it was when this opened the year so perfectly, the spotlight should remain on what he has already done so far.