The world has never been more aware of its growing anxieties and negativity than it is now. Politically-charged lyrics and themes, once almost exclusively limited to punk music, are beginning to infect every genre out there, turning music into a reflection of everything that is wrong with our existence.
However, the past decade has seen a hunger for innocence and simplicity as a reminder of the old times when sending a letter was the only way to tell someone you loved them. We’ve heard this reminder from artists like Passenger, Ben Howard and Lucy Rose, and now we’re hearing it again in River Matthews’ otherworldly voice.
‘Imogen’ is a delicate collection of journeys through old letters and the secrets they hold. It’s hard to believe a voice so powerfully fragile and unique has stayed hidden for so long. Sunshine opens the album with the celebratory confidence of a gospel anthem. It’s a song to listen on a day when nothing particularly good or bad happens and yet you’re simply grateful for being alive. It makes you believe that, sometimes, all it takes is a little sunshine.
The initial burst of energy quickly makes space for quieter reflections. Love is not easily forgotten, as Fool For You reminds of what could have been and what still is. In Pretty Things, the chord progressions make room for fairy guitar notes dancing around the words “All those pretty things, they write themselves like you”.
It’s clear River Matthews knows that, sometimes, the best music writes itself, shying away from overcomplicated arrangements and ideas. In a world where everyone tries harder and harder every day, being honest and simple is a breath of fresh air.
As the album gently builds up, Never is the culmination, standing out bravely above the preceding songs as a leading track, both melodically and lyrically. The brass motif interjecting the chorus is among those perfect counter-melodies that make a song sound as if it was written out of thin air. While the majority of the songs in ‘Imogen’ daydream and wander too freely to stick into your brain for long, Never is songwriting in the most-flawless and catchy sense of the word.
Before finishing with an intimate rendition of House Of The Rising Sun, a song too well known, the album flickers with Stars, a poem above all else – for it would sound as melodic even if only spoken. Through a subtle play of the word ‘imagine’, the album closes in a full cycle: “They’re all for you / Just you, Imogen”.
We need artists like River Matthews now, more than ever. A voice reminiscent of Jeff Buckley’s and a pure heart we rarely encounter even in music. And if there’s anything we can be sure of, his magnificent talent will be here to guide us through the darkness for a long time. If only we let him.
‘Imogen’ is set to be released on February 16th.