Jacob Hauge Mateo & Ben Bushill – Quiet Majesty – EP Review
I loved every moment of this experience, straight up.
There are far too few records out there that celebrate the art of Spoken Word like this one does. Right from the very cover of the album, you can see that Jacob Hauge Mateo (Music) and Ben Bushill (Poetry) don’t shy away from what they’ve created here, and proudly stand behind what they’ve created. Which they should be of course – this is how you go about doing it all the right ways in my personal opinion – the balance of strengths between both elements, their words and their music, is pure brilliance. It won’t take you more than a mere couple of minutes to realize in listening to the opening/title-track of Quiet Majesty that you’re in-store for an experience you likely don’t have all that often when you push play – and no matter what I end up writing here, words cannot express my gratitude at finding such a sheer joy to listen to. The performances put in by both Mateo & Bushill should be earning them awards, full stop.
Hearing Ben’s voice for the first time on “Quiet Majesty” is something else. Listening to the way he observes the fox, his noble subject of choice, as this EP begins…is amazing, and defies description; it’s the kind of combination of insightful wisdom and evocative sound that you so very rarely, if ever, are lucky enough to stumble across or experience – and the impact is immediate. Jacob’s piano is beyond gorgeous…and the perfect complement to the beautiful splendor of Ben’s words. The fox serves as a muse…a springboard for Bushill’s thoughts, that sends him into a flurry of existentialism and the recognition of our mortality, the fragility of our time, the specialness of nature and the world around us – what we keep, what we let go…and ultimately, what we leave behind. Laden with allegory and an overarching metaphoric style of writing that will have you contemplating your own existence, your relationship with the world surrounding you…how you treat yourself, how you treat others that cross your path, how you observe & view the world…it is nothing short of a sheer pleasure to listen to how much thought, sincerity, effort, and heart has been put into every single moment of “Quiet Majesty.” Some of it’s happy, some it’s even kind of sad – and all of it is beautiful, if you’re really listening to what is being said & the music surrounding the words. “Quiet Majesty” not only sets the theme & the tone for the rest to follow, it presents this combination of talents shared between Ben and Jacob in the most stunning & vivid of ways, through words you can practically see in your mind & sweet music that speaks directly to your soul. I’m not even remotely kidding when I say I feel like I’ve waited my life for a record like this one.
If you tune into the SBS Podcast later on today, you’ll find us playing “A Prayer For All Faiths” to give you a sample of what this duo of talents have been creating and how extraordinary it genuinely is. It’s about the only way I’ll be able to properly explain what I’m hearing to ya…I mean…you’ve really got to hear this EP for yourself to gain a complete understanding of just how moving it can be & how exceptional it is. The wisdom & insight of Ben’s words…the sincerity of Jacob’s music…how incredible it is to hear two artists like these guys combining their talents and complementing what each other brings to each track – it’s nothing short of audibly miraculous if you were to ask a guy like myself, who basically gets out of bed each and every morning hoping to find something like this in the independent scene & so rarely does. Not for lack of trying, I assure you…I’ve been on these pages of ours ranting away for almost an entire decade at this point in time, and it’s because I’ve been so relentlessly active & continuously searching for art like this that I can tell you exactly how rare, how special, and how authentic it really is. “May I be humble…may I be innocent…may I be wise” – all three attributes that we should all be truly striving for, forever and always. I cannot even begin to express just how many words you’ll find on this album that will speak to you on a whole other level than you’ve likely ever experienced. Alongside the immaculate backing vocals that are sung with the piano on “A Prayer For All Faiths” – the vivid details, imagery, and descriptions of what life is really supposed to be about…is purely captivating. None of this feels judgmental…none of this feels like you’re being preached at…instead we’re encouraged to find that “tenderness and wisdom,” and peace these two have found, if only so that we can share it, together. In recognizing how imperfect we are, they tap right into what does make us perfect…”may all beings be at peace…may you be whole. In all possible ways, may you be whole.” I don’t need to flip back through the chapters of my life & all I’ve experienced to know that’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever heard.
Listen to the detail will ya? Jacob has done such an incredible job of finding unique ways to support Ben’s poetic words, and “Fatherhood” is perhaps one of the clearest examples of this in action. Listen to the steady heartbeat that comes along to bring the reference in the words even more to the forefront of our mind. “I am destroyed and remade each day” is a phenomenal line in this third track that echoes in my mind, every single time I spin my way through this album. Truthfully, I could pull quotes from Ben all day long…and you’re probably lucky that I’m not, otherwise I’d keep us here all day long and you’d nary see a word of my own as my writing pales in comparison to what this man can accomplish with a mighty stroke of his pen. There’s something so incredibly haunting about “Fatherhood” from beginning to end. I’d imagine most people would see the title, and likely assume it’d be a joyous moment in most cases – and I’m not even saying that this track doesn’t have at least a little of that at its core…but it’s much more realistic, grounded, and real than that…Ben’s not looking to simply pump our tires with the best observations of what would make “Fatherhood” great, so much as describe what it would really be like. Or at least as best as I can tell…that’s not in the cards for me personally – I’m in my 40s and chose to lead one of the most selfish lives humanly possible, unapologetically. I have great respect for those out there that have had the courage to follow the path of family and choose to raise one themselves – and many of the fears that I’d imagine the majority of you have in pursuing this path are detailed throughout “Fatherhood.” Whether or not you can or can’t keep them safe…whether or not you can or can’t teach them all they need to know…whether or not you can or can’t let them steer their own lives forward without too much interference…”for the great river will have its way,” as Ben will tell you. I’ve got nothing but the highest respect for those that appreciate their roles in giving life, and even more for those that recognize that at some point, like it or not, we all have to let go, and let the chips fall where they may, as they say. Some will stumble, some will fall…we all do more often than not in fact – but with a steady compass to guide us, we rise, ready to repeat our mistakes and hopefully learn from them – maybe that happens for each of us individually, or maybe we witness it happening down the line through the evolution of the family tree from the roots to the tip of the branches spread far & wide as it continues to grow and expand throughout history. To me, “Fatherhood” seemed to cleverly speak on behalf of what we can & cannot do at the same time…the limitations of how we pass on the knowledge & wisdom that we have, the desire to share it anyway, and the reality of how it’s all ultimately received.
So here’s the thing. As much as I claim to love the art of Spoken Word, which is true – my frame of references for comparison are way more relegated to things outside of the musical realm than they are within them – you following me? We experience this style of art so much more than we ever realize – it’s a part of movies, television, plays, and productions of all kinds…to the point where it truly is a lot rarer to experience Spoken Word through a dedicated record like this one is. For me, an EP like Quiet Majesty is much more likely to remind me of moments in time in shows that I love or have impacted me in ways beyond description…feelings I’ve gotten from watching things like The Leftovers, Lost, or Station Eleven, that continue to haunt the halls of my mind to this very day, long after their final episodes have been broadcast. “Little Sparks (Intermezzo)” probably gives you a clearer glimpse of how that can be effective as a supporting element in a soundtrack scenario, given that this particular track on Quiet Majesty is much more focused on the music & the role it plays. Technically there are still vocals, yes – but threaded in through a much more avant-garde & artistic design…vocalizations, as opposed to words spoken directly to us – make sense? What’s so extraordinary about it all, is that you still feel the true power of the emotion, and a moment like this can be equally memorable, even without using a single word by their traditional definition. Chances are you’ve experienced some sort of music like this before – I like to think that the sound of something like “Little Sparks (Intermezzo)” is very much like the sound we hear in our mind, in our soul…the constant hum of music that echoes life around us, even if we don’t realize that’s what’s actually occurring, each and every day. It’s also a fantastic reminder of just how remarkable the music on this Spoken Word-based record is as well…which I think it truly important, if not outright crucial. Ben’s been incredible without question – but it’s in listening to a track like “Little Sparks (Intermezzo)” that’s more driven instrumentally, that we realize how much of a role the sound of what we hear from texture to tone, melody to emotion, has been every single step of the way through.
If you are currently a fan of music being made by say…something like Bon Iver, or Sigur Ros for example – which incidentally, you should be – I would imagine you’re going to love absolutely everything you’ll hear on Quiet Majesty and understand why I’d bring them up in reference to what you’ll discover on this EP, especially on tracks like “Little Sparks (Intermezzo),” or “Bow Your Head” right afterwards. Like a tribal prayer that’s sung out to the heavens above in the wide open of winter on a night you can see your breath travel like your spirit towards the stars overhead…”Bow Your Head” is a highlight example of how moving Ben and Jacob can be together, united in the vision they had for what this record could become…and has as a result of their efforts. I could quite happily listen to Ben read the phonebook from A to Z and I know I’d never get tired of it…the way he speaks/performs…it’s really something you have to experience for yourself to understand. He speaks directly from the heart with a whole lot of thought put into every word he says, resulting in a combination of thought-provoking emotion in his words that will have you considering everything he’s saying, and how it relates to your own life’s path. The additional tribal-esque vocals of “Bow Your Head” and the clever way the effects/mix work with them…I mean…this is purely genius dear readers, dear friends. I’d fully expect that on our next episode of the SBS Podcast, there’s a real good chance I’ll be playing a double-shot of what these two have come up with for ya, with “Bow Your Head” included in the set-list as well…because this is art that deserves to be heard, and if I can play even a fragment of a role in helping that along in this world, I’ll die happily.
I really can’t wait for you to hear this record…I mean that sincerely. It is astonishingly rare to hear two artists complement each other as well as these two do, and how essential each half of a duo is to one final result…Quiet Majesty is spellbinding, captivating, compelling, and audibly stunning to the nth degree. Hearing the immaculate chasms of depth in the music is one thing, hearing the performative brilliance of the words is another…and hearing them combined can’t help but stir your soul, open your mind & heart, and have you listening intently to every single moment you’ll discover. Honestly, I don’t know that I’ve ever struggled so hard to write a review in my entire life…and in realizing that, it’s probably the best compliment I could ever pass on to what Ben & Jacob have created – I didn’t want to hear the tippity-tap of the keys as the EP played in the background as I wrote…I didn’t want the phone to ring or my dog to bark at the door…I just wanted to listen. The amount of wisdom you’ll find communicated on “Cathedral” at the end…or throughout this entire record for that matter…it’s all so connected, and extraordinary to experience. From nature & the world surrounding us, to the spiritual elements that we can feel but cannot see…Ben and Jacob have not only told us that it’s all connected through what we hear on this record, they’ve literally & audibly proven it, track after track. “Cathedral” was very much like hearing the final thoughts of reflection you’d imagine you hear in your mind right before the end…before we head into the light from whence we came…to return home, where we belong. I am in awe of this EP…and I can’t imagine anyone else out there hearing it any differently, as different as we are. We all know what the sound of special really is, because it transcends sound – it becomes a feeling, and it hits us straight in the heart & soul like nothing else can. That’s what this whole EP was like to experience…and I’m tellin’ ya right here, right now folks – I will never forget what I’ve heard. This is memorable as art could ever be, and as I’ve told ya from the very start, it’s award worthy – I have no qualms or reservations whatsoever in telling you it’s one of the best records you’ll hear this year, if not ever, in the Spoken Word genre, or any other. Open your mind, open your heart – and listen.
Find the Quiet Majesty EP at Bandcamp, right here: https://quietmajesty.bandcamp.com
Find out what we do at sleepingbagstudios, and be the next to be featured on our pages by clicking here!