Swedish folky Mattias Lies’ album Highs & Lows shines a tintype dark lacquered light to Neil Young’s song ‘Don’t Let It Bring You Down’ with its cinematic words, “Dead man lying/By the side of the road/With the daylight in his eyes”.
Odd: The first three songs float like a really nice and melodically intense soundtrack to Neil’s own film score for After The Goldrush – a movie that never managed to exist.
As my friend, Kilda Defnut, explained, “That’s the way we talked in the 70’s. We (individually) just wrote soundtracks about the lives of people who wrote (collectively)) about something we (also individually) didn’t like very much. There’s probably a very American oxymoron in there someplace, but no matter; then we all, thankfully, just played the collective harmonica (just like Bob Dylan did!) – which is the common denominator of ultimate folky truth”.
I think she may be right, at least about that harmonica.
Ah – those first three songs: Highs & Lows catches that deep (and sort of beautiful) moment of despair. And it’s an acoustic-harmonica voiced prayer that defiantly hopes to find “daylight” in a “dead man’s” very musical “eyes”. The first song, ‘The Deadliest Of Stars’, is a finely guitar picked tune with a wondrous chorus, “I’ve been attracted by the deadliest of stars/Ever since I was a school boy in the yard”. That’s the template lyric for the album. And a slight pedal steel bends in the background while there’s a blink toward the gentle passion of an early Phil Ochs’ song from his In Concert album. The same is melodically true for ‘Maze Of Blues’ (a fav song!) – with more of that “collective harmonica” archetype, while the melody serves as a comfy featherbed GPS through all the “shadows” that “may surround you”. It’s a nice song – with its own “heart of gold”. Then ‘Wildest Dreams’ orbits with really acoustic humanity, dart board specific harmonica, and somehow allows our original Adam (speaking symbolically, of course!), who “used to play rock ‘n’ roll” to plead the fifth about eating that forbidden backbeat fruit thing; and thanks to our muse Eve who “opened up my eyes” with “your warm and tender smile”, they, (perhaps as folk dual)) can “go down the road beyond our wildest dreams”.
But then things change. Mattias Lies leaves west coast America, still with folk purity in hand, and ventures into melodic innocence of, say, the best of all the great songs of Don McLean that lived in the shadow of ‘American Pie’. (That’s a big compliment.) ‘Silver & Gold (Acoustic version)’ just denies in soft prose the futility of “chasing dollars down the rabbit hole”. This is a nice kite in a friendly a breeze of a tune. And there’s yet another blink toward (my beloved) Phil Ochs.
And ‘Strange Life’ is underground wired folk music that warns “tricksters try to rob me of my charity and pride” with “words passing through me like scarecrows in the night”. This gently intense song finds the singer still, thankfully, “open to the moonlight and the sky”. All the lyrics continue to be wonderfully philosophic and symbolic (and also pretty cool!).
‘The Forest’ is a brief (just over a minute) impressionist voice, guitar, and harmonica bit. I don’t know, perhaps, Nick Drake’s ‘Horn’ from Pink Moon comes to mind. It’s an arty interlude.
‘In A World Where I Don’t Belong’ is a gossamer slow-danced admission ticket to the tale of the prodigal son (to get all biblical, again!) returning from those “borderlines” (as seen in ‘Strange Life’) back home–with a second admission: “But when I see your smiling face/I realize that life will change” while “running down a field of passion”. Well, in the end, it’s just a wonderous thing just to say, “I love you so”. The tune blossoms like one of those time lapsed yellow daffodils blooming videos. It’s a lovely unabashed song that manages to not collapse under its own honesty.
And finally, ‘The Dying Maid’ (oddly listed as a Bonus track), is injected with ancient myth, symbolism, urgent tragedy, a spooky vibe—and a melodic piano and shadowy percussion to boot. It, like much of this album, manages to make the old stuff touch the new stuff, and of course, it also makes a new song echo into the air of some ancient dark wooded Swedish forest. And it ends the album suspended in heavy and eerie air.
Highs & Lows is a soundtrack to many lives. It’s a brief album (clocking in just under twenty-four minutes), but it’s also a record that dives deeply into the mysterious and very melodic waters in which folky emotions swim, somehow, in this “strange life” with our “wildest dreams” that, even after all these years, are still “stuck inside of Mobile with those ‘maze of blues’, again”.
Artist’s website: https://mattiaslies.com/
‘Silver & Gold’ – official video: