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Matteah Baim - Laughing Boy 7.2 via Pitchfork
Matteah Baim started out as a visual artist before turning her attention to music a few years ago, but she is probably best known for her role as one half of the self-dubbed "soft metal" duo Metallic Falcons, alongside Sierra Casady of CocoRosie. Their one and only album, the extraordinary Desert Doughnuts, featured layer upon layer of heady, rich landscapes and cryptic imagery, while maintaining an intangible, almost magical presence that ultimately set the record apart as something special and original.
Now that Metallic Falcons are on hiatus, Baim is concentrating on her own solo material. For her second album, Laughing Boy, New York-based Baim gathered a cast of Chicago indie all-stars, including 90 Day Men's Rob Lowe, artist Rose Lazar, and members of Pit er Pat. It's a smart move-- although Baim has a strong, haunting presence as a songwriter, it is her collaboration with these other distinctive musical personalities that keeps the album moving. One suspects this group interplay leads these songs in their most surprising directions, through the constant introduction of different ideas, styles, and approaches to composition.
You get the feeling that while the basic blueprint of the songs may have been in place from the start, Laughing Boy is predominantly created out of Baim and co.'s spontaneous jams. There's a charming clumsiness about this album-- its intentionally playful, spur-of-the-moment melodies create an expressive, mysterious atmosphere that always comes to a close at just the right moment. Fuego's drumming, usually in a creative wrestle against the downbeat, and Lowe's sinewy bass lines give backbone to her adventurous vocal patterns, congas, handclaps, and string arrangements, which peek in and out of the songs with natural fluidity and provide a wonderful vessel for her abstract lyrics.
Even without that help, Baim has a mesmerizing, velvety voice that dips and soars in accordance to her atypical phrasing, and at times it sounds as though she's singing a lullaby straight into your ear. On Laughing Boy, her vocals almost have a 1960s lounge vibe-- though inevitably much darker, riddled with ambiguous spookiness. She pairs up with other vocalists on the a cappella cover of Jim Morrisson's "Bird of Prey" and "He Turned My Mind Around", experimenting further with the loose song structures that make up the bulk of the album. From the brief rush of bells on "Maths on Fire" to the echo of breathy resonance on "The Whistler", it's both clear that Baim isn't afraid to slip unusual interludes between her psychedelic improvisations, and that her mix of the familiar and the unexpected is a winning combination.