The Matthew Herbert Big Band
There’s Me and There’s You
You have to hear this album in the same way you have to go stare at an Andy Warhol print; it is an experience that no person is going to feel in precisely the same way. There’s Me and There’s You by Matthew Herbert is an album that the more you discover of its idiosyncrasies, its odd secrets, the more you’re going to be wondering, “Why the fuck didn’t I think of that?!” Though it can be difficult to listen to all the way through because of its intensity and complexity, to say it shouldn’t be espoused, would be horribly wrong.
Matthew Herbert brings unique orchestration to his work; he is a man who should by all rights be considered on the same plane as artists like Banksy for his approach to dealing with political and social frustrations. Instead of graffiti or animatronics, Herbert employs sound samples that subtly drive home his point. Behind the classy and sophisticated music is a wide variety of samples; dozens of people simultaneously scraping condoms on a museum floor, hammering nails in a coffin, cutting up credit cards, squirting Britney Spears’ perfume in the British Museum hall and more.
These samples, along with the venerated and powerful voice of Eska Mtungwazi booming out politically charged lyrics, combine to create a motif of frustration and disappointment. There’s Me and There’s You hits on subjects like the hypocrisy of global warming politics, the repulsiveness of consumerism, and torture without making it cavil. More frequently Herbert hits on the abuse of power, most ostensibly in the British government, and the war in Iraq with the songs “Waiting,” “One Life” and “Regina.”
The music itself is completely fascinating, starting off with something that could have come out of a Prince album with “The Story.” The album has a very big cabaret feel, melding with aspects of jazz, soul and big band; sometimes it happens all at once. You’re going to want to walk right out of the house after a minute of listening to it. To go get a top hat, that is. There’s Me and There’s You has energy that radiates through the speakers. Like Warhol, his affect is captivation and glamor. But like a true recidivist, Herbert slips back to biting lyrics, sarcasm and metaphorical sound samples.
Like any good dark comedy, the album is relentlessly multilayered and diverse. Each song contains gripping rhythms that hold the attention throughout. “Battery” is a bouncing, big band banter that goes from feeling like a musical to a typewriter rhythm and ends with a punching lyric “Blindfolded and / Folded / Shackled.”} After a brief intermission in the second minute, the song explodes with lines like “Tell me all the people tell me all of their names / The names of the people all of the people that you’ve ever met that you’ve never met” followed by a grungy belt from Mtungwazi that’s equally as inescapable.
“The Rich Man’s Prayer” is slow and sultry, sounding like an off-kilter love song. With Count Basie-like trumpets in the background and a piano suffering from narcosis, Mtungwazi sings of avarice and over-consumption; “Bring me more than I wish for now” the song sarcastically sings along with “Now give me your love.” This perfect combination of sampling, singing and sound is continuous in the album. With each song you will be captured by something new and exciting. Whether you like the album for its music, history, or the words that Eska Mtungwazi lets fly from her mouth, one thing is to be sure, you’re not going to find the words “habeas” and “corpus” come from another album like this.
by Edmond Stansberry