Listening to Matteran Ghost is at first like wandering wistfully through a forest heavy with mist as dusk descends upon a mind unraveling. Then, as night breaks the moon reveals a different scene.
A haunting violin played by Justina Nadal Repking graces the 7-song long EP with an ethereal tugging toward another world, joined in harmony by the strong instrumentation of Micael Pradon’s guitar, bass, keys and percussion (joined by Darrell Barrett and John Hartman). The strumming is charmingly close, each prominent stroke making the listening experience feel especially intimate, as if the trio is creating these acoustic stylings on the spot in your secret grotto.
Vocals fluctuate between the delicately husky voice of Leila Mae and the soft yearning of Micael Pradon, letting a river of harmonizing flow as the two overlap. The album begins with a barely noticeable ocean wave pulling into shore, underscoring a strong ribbon of violin intertwined with resilient drums. The two singers start wooing the album into a slightly desolate dream, and the surreal saturation begins with “If.”
Repking’s violin simply waltzes through “Come Dancing,” weaving moonlight around two figures, with lines like, “You see me standing on the corner and you know I’m your man…” hinting at a darker side of intimacy. A stark emotional undercurrent, weary at times and hopeful at others, persists throughout the album, seeming to bring out the shadows behind every love.
The first half of the album builds a steady pace of melancholic reflection, tied together through the weeping violin, bittersweet melodies and a straining heartbeat, reaching a crescendo in the last minute of “Falling For Grace.” The meandering forest walk ends and the listener emerges into a meadow of jangly dancing and festivities. Notably, the same moment the album transitions into a place where those chains of feeling are loosed a bit, the unique attributes of three talented musicians becomes undeniably identifiable. A break distills the energy with a beat of silence, then the song resumes with each person playing a little harder, illuminating Mae’s understated and enchanting voice and confirming the raw power of Repking’s violin over the strong foundation of Pradon’s multi-instrumentation.
The second half of the album picks up the pace and blends different elements of island sounds, gypsy folk and country. It seems you’ve been taken on a journey and don’t know entirely where you are, perhaps having strayed off the path a bit. These three aren’t afraid to experiment with style and it resonates well. “20 Watt Light” opens with a flute-like resonance and almost jazzy keyboard, retaining a harmonic energy while adding the rhythms of feel-good island music, perhaps complemented by the lyric, “As I drift, your sails fill.” The finale, “A Bicycle for Two,” takes the listener for a spin out in the country and ends on a bit of a boxier, twangier country vibe.
Though the majority of the album is pleasantly sophisticated, there are places where the gracious subtlety is peeled back for a moment, revealing a bare and almost cheesy, possibly saccharine interior. “Watching Me Watching You” is a good song with a memorable hook, but the whining lyric, “I can see my insecurities in your cheap sunglasses” disrupts the placid lake. “Beside” has a wonderful gypsy guitar reminiscent of Bob Dylan’s Desire, but the melody verges on sickeningly sweet.
However, these moments are rare and for a debut EP, Matteran Ghost delivers a solid, mellow listening experience that might be the most appropriate for those gloomy days spent cleaning the kitchen and dusting out the cobwebs of the soul. But if you let the sounds envelop your mundane scene, that’s not where you’ll be - take this forest walk (or whatever it may be for you) at least once.