Since first gaining attention for his solo, loop-based acoustic guitar playing, Matt Stevens has continued to push himself forward as an artist. Most notably, his Prog-approved outfit The Fierce And The Dead have seen him taking on the role of a rock guitar player, and this dynamic, presumably combined with the experience of touring with bands such as Knifeworld and Trojan Horse, has surely affected his approach on this new record.
Indeed, Lucid more often than not feels like a debut album rather than the fourth record of an established artist. The obvious reason is that this is new ground for Stevens – at least under his own moniker – though it’s also due to the gentle, even playful experimentation found on the record.
Across its 11 tracks, Stevens and his cast of guest musicians – including members of King Crimson, Frost*, Knifeworld, Chrome Hoof and Trojan Horse – dabble in post-rock on Street And Circus, expansive prog on The Bridge, krautrock on the title track and percussive, almost industrial rock in the vein of Nine Inch Nails on Oxymoron. On that opening track a searing, ethereal melody enters above a churning, metallic guitar accompaniment. The guitar backing is remarkable enough as a first introduction to Lucid. Even considering TFATD’s post-rock inclinations, such an all-out, Mogwai-bothering assault is startling.
Flow, meanwhile, flirts at the genre affectations of math-rock without fully committing to them, and there are also some echoes of Stevens’ previous work on The Other Side and KEA, delicate, finger-picked constructions of unusual arpeggios and chords. The centrepiece of the record is 12-minute piece The Bridge, which also features an echo of Oxymoron’s main melodic motif. In thrall perhaps to recent Sonic Youth or The Century Of Self-era And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead, its furious guitars are another shock to the system.
Coulrophobia, however, is the song on which all the record’s disparate elements come together. Strands of electronics and chiming guitars vie for attention as the layers gradually build before a sudden ebb away. Though one of the shorter tracks here, it’s also the most evocative, and wouldn’t be out of place on Porcupine Tree’s classic In Absentia.
In making this album, Stevens wanted to push himself, stating, “If you’re not going to take risks and try and do something interesting, what’s the point?” Surely he has succeeded. Confounding listeners’ expectations can be jarring, but when done well, it can turn the unexpected into something even more special. Hopefully fans of his previous work will laud Lucid for the artistic boldness it represents.