- The New York artist sounds weirder and more inspired than ever.
- In March this year, the largest private real-estate project in US history opened on the west side of Midtown Manhattan. The critics hated it. Built over a mostly disused railyard, the $25 billion development, called Hudson Yards, is an opulent mix of high-rise flats and offices, a shopping centre, an arts space and a rose-gold folly the New Yorker called "a shawarma-shaped stairway to nowhere." This past July, I walked along the High Line on a cloudless Friday afternoon and gawped at its tallest skyscraper, thinking of its 1,100-ft high observation deck, an aggressive glass chevron, as an "up yours" to urban planning.
You don't have to guess what Madteo thought about it. On his last album, the exceptional Noi No, he referred to the city's hedge-fund daily as something that more closely resembled a public good. "What are you reading," Madteo asked on "Il Capoline" with a sneer, "The Wall Street Urinal?" His catalogue reflects a very different New York. You get a sense of his sardonic personality through track titles like "Laissez-Faire Couture," "U$b Schtick" and "Alan Greenspin," but the music's winding, unpredictable depth is more revealing. It can resemble a rickety train of thought, which runs from the bodegas, record shops and flea markets of his day-to-day in Queens to a ruminative, second-guessing inner self.
On Madteo's new album, Dropped Out Sunshine, we ride the whole route, starting in his lounge. In the first few seconds, a string section plays the sort of tragic refrain you hear in a telenovela when the camera cuts to a hospital room. The patient, it turns out, is Drake. We get a shelling of MPC-triggered kicks and multi-pitched mantras like "This one's for you" and "Baby, you're my everything." Here, Madteo turns a seconds-long intro section of "Best I Ever Had" into a three-minute pummeling, wringing as much from its beat-length samples as possible. You wait for it to settle down, but it's a coin that keeps spinning until, in the last few seconds, the strings return.
Madteo records often have a lived-in, curtains-drawn atmosphere, and there's a fair amount of that here. By the album's last third, this mood combines with a pleasant fatigue—the blustery gothic drone of "To The One Of Fictive Music" and "The Lies That Bind," a knackered study of Grouper, pull your lids down like graffitied shutters. That's no surprise given the LP's exertions elsewhere. Check, for example, the madness of "Resident Alien (Broke-'N-Steppers Reluctant Club Mix)," where ragga loops stumble amid record scratches that sound like police sirens. On hearing "Same Way"'s churn of tense, prickly synth chords, I suddenly wanted to hear a DJ mix them with a hyperswung 12-inch from A Made Up Sound. "NYC (Where U B?)," a rare but not unprecedented glimpse of full-on sunshine in Madteo's music, is a disco-house joy machine with Wu-Tang adlibs.
The titles of Madteo's music are full of sly ambiguities. In "NYC (Where U B?)"'s case, it's a reference to Ol' Dirty Bastard's yelp ("Where you be, motherfucker!?"), but it could also nod to a disappearing way of life. "I hang out a lot with older native New Yorkers," he said in 2016, "and they're constantly lamenting the loss of what they feel made the city truly great"—the possibility, he explained, to pursue a creative life while earning very little. Instead of bohemias like The Cedar Tavern, where abstract expressionists got shitfaced with Beat poets, New York was filling up with "$20 burgers and $15 cocktails, places for trust fund babies to sit with 'friends' and stare at their smartphone screens."
Some of the album's source material may already be on the Spotify playlists of these casually expensive restaurants. But Dropped Out Sunshine is unlikely to accompany a forkful of saffron fries. Take "Evol On," a punch-drunk trap cut with a hypnotically assertive warning: "I can't show no love to a snake / I can't show no love to a bitch who acting fake." "Would Eddie House Mind?" is even stranger. The titular blues artist sings about defiance—"Don't you mind people grinnin' in your face"—with a texture of heartbreak, encouraged by claps from a small audience. Coupled with the wail and grind of feedback, the effect is surreal. This spectral, out-of-time ambience adds an unexpected vulnerability. Yet the sentiment, of persevering against sceptics, is made stronger by its presence here, half a century later.
Between 2017's Scientrysts EP and this album, Madteo's releases had all come out on cassette, a format that seems especially suited to his grimy, freehanded style (it may also reflect a view on vinyl's creeping expense). On the most recent of these, the DDS-released Forest Limit, rotting field recordings and welts of noise constituted some of the unfriendliest stuff Madteo has made. As the tide has ebbed on "outsider house," his music has only become freakier. Sometime after Madteo asks, "What is going wrong with your life today," on Dropped Out Sunshine's final stop, the music's stoned fog begins to clear. We've come off the rails.
01. 1 4 U
02. Reach The Bourgeois But Still Rock The Boulevard
03. Would Eddie House Mind?
04. Same Way (Interior Paramours Mix)
05. Evol On
06. 6 AM
07. NYC (Where U B?)
08. Resident Alien (Broke-'N-Steppers Reluctant Club Mix)
09. To The One Of Fictive Music
10. No Secrets
11. The Lies That Bind
12. Hells Lament