One Formation – One Formation – Album Review
Singer/songwriter and ambient-folk artist Matt Fleming has found himself quite the creative outlet here in his project known as One Formation. First of all…for those out there that see the word ‘ambient’ and get scared about potential boredom or not enough to listen to – I invite you in, on behalf of Matt. I’m a long-standing lover of the ambient genre and I can tell you that there’s more than enough for anyone to be interested here on the new self-titled record – a debut in fact – from One Formation. As I’ve been saying for years and as Fleming himself will prove throughout the record – the ambient genre and its various subsections are anything but boring, drawn-out or sparse when done right. When it IS done right…you get an album like this that ranges in ideas, sounds and scope; it stays laid-back…there’s a noticeable absence of aggression and an extraordinary palette of beautiful styles & concepts explored throughout this record.
Take the gorgeous opening that begins this record for example. “Floating” exemplifies much of what we know and love most about the ambient-genre, but with added folk overtones. With Fleming coming from the UK and myself from Canada, well, of course I’m apt to draw comparisons to the isolated and innocent sounds you’d find on the first Coldplay album, back when it was all still ‘yellow’ for them. Something about the recording of this one…with its spread-out sound incorporating nature samples and ambient noise from the atmosphere into its acoustic-based melody; the guitar has a ton of emotion and the vocals that eventually accompany it are pensive, thoughtful and sung extraordinarily well for a debut or any other record for that matter. The facts are generally that you won’t find someone that sounds as polished as Matt is in his approach most times…he sounds fantastic on “Floating” with fragile confidence and thought-provoking layers to the lyricism that make this album’s first track and initial vibe a warm & inviting one. Wherever this music is “Floating” One Formation along to – I wanna come with!
Immediately rewarded with the smooth & beautiful mix of sounds in “Plastic Hag” – this album is quickly becoming the exact type of album I was hoping to hear somewhere throughout this year from the ambient-side of life. Again…ambient can often be a genre that we use when we’re not quite sure of where to categorize our music…and with the addition of light-electro, folk and indie-pop/rock sounds, what One Formation is doing sounds a lot closer to what you might know as ambient in an act like The Album Leaf in how the songs range from instrumentals to vocalized-tracks, and from more involved ideas to more simplistic snapshots of atmosphere in song. “Plastic Hag” has a wonderful evolution to it; by the time you get to the incredible swell of the low-end synth, you’ve already heard an entire canvas of sounds you can see beautifully in your mind. The light & bright melody of the main-electro line and ideas behind “Plastic Hag” are phenomenally gorgeous and the stunning execution, structure and approach to it all have got me massively excited about Mr. Matt Fleming – I’m thinking we’ve got a potential musical-mastermind here. His ideas for texture and tone combined are fantastic – listen to the way the guitar-tones meet the electro over the first minute and how they resonate…I’m not even sure that it’s truly guitar sounds really…and in either-event, I have no idea how he’s made this sound the way it does. What I do know is what I like…and I like this…a LOT.
If One Formation were about to breakout the glow-sticks and get its electro-rave on, you’d figure that maybe it might happen on “Trap House” – but Fleming stays true to his style, so we’ll assume those aren’t references to other counterparts of the electronic-music scene. “Trap House” could be though…in a way, it uses hypnotic-repetition much the same as what you’d find in the House-music scene, but much slower here, more intense and sounding like something that has the incredible-depths of a Mogwai song. Great contrast here between the drumbeats and low-end tones meeting the bright melody-lines of the synth overtop, and once again, there’s a solid evolution and build in “Trap House” as it plays. These ideas of Fleming’s are seriously well-realized from the performance to production – I haven’t found a single note or tone I’d change; this is ear-candy for me – I love what he’s doing here on this record so far.
And right when I think it’s not going to get any more gorgeous – “Night Radio” comes on. What might be one of my favorite tunes of this year – I absolutely LOVE this song and how innocent the whole composition sounds. Extraordinarily well-thought-out and played, the piano-led melody of “Night Radio” has a sweet/melancholy mixture to its emotion…and I LOVE a piano-led song, don’t get me wrong…but I think Fleming’s vocals steal the show on this one. I stand by my Parachutes comparison from before in the production…sounds a lot like Coldplay here – maybe mixed with R.E.M.’s “At My Most Beautiful” – but also ideas that borderline on the genius of the lesser-known tracks on an album like Radiohead’s Ok Computer as well. The mixture of intensity, melody and the straight-up unknown makes for an incredible listening experience on “Night Radio.” It’s hard to put sounds this beautiful into words that could rival what’s being sung already throughout “Night Radio” – the best way to put what I’d want to say about this track is simply to listen to it. You’ll hear what I do – Fleming has nailed this one perfectly with a unique and versatile performance that has amazing depth & dimensions to the overall sound from the violin/synth-string sounds to the subtle percussion and beautiful piano.
One Formation goes on into “Sparkle,” which is a perfect track to point out just how much range there is in the attitude of this record. Again, ambient-music is often mistaken for being merely melancholy tones and atmospheres – but listen to the inspiring & uplifting, relaxing sound of “Sparkle” if you need proof that it can be the opposite. In a word, ‘quaint’ might be how I’d describe “Sparkle” – it’s one of the shortest tracks on the record but delivers solidly…almost like a Four Tet track in how it weaves its tapestry and evolves quickly into something beautiful and captivating.
If anything, “Sparkle” and the songs beforehand made it a bit more difficult to adapt to “Is This On” on the first couple listens. A drift back into the acoustic-based atmosphere, “Is This On” is a great example of the layers of depth that One Formation reaches lyrically…but almost sounded a little out of place on the record at the halfway-mark. I still think there are enough tie-ins to warrant its existence on this particular record, and I love the innocent approach and sound to it, but I also felt when listening to this track that it also would have made an extraordinary ending to the record too. Fleming delivers a seriously committed performance here – and I like that; so I know it’s not the fault of the song or its main-star, I think it’s just placement. Subsequent listens to the record found this track much more easily accepted than the initial switch between sounds did.
The ominous tones and beginning of “Take Off” and the incredible production-values that line this track immediately begin to impress. With a haunting melody-line from the guitars and stunning surrounding atmosphere…this one again reminds me of the powerful emotion and approach you’d find in a Mogwai tune…One Formation might not explode as hard as they do, but keep in mind that’s an entire band and Matt Fleming is just one man. He’s sounded like a full-band throughout this entire record and done an absolutely incredible job in creating these songs. “Take Off” is a perfect example of that blend of space-rock and ambient sounds together, all building-up over the song’s duration to the eventual eruption towards the end. I think that “Take Off” is a great addition to the record; for audiophiles like myself, this was a pure delight to listen to – the background is just as intense as what’s happening in the most noticeable parts of the music & melody, making for a great track to listen to over and over to catch it all.
“Skyline” has Fleming and One Formation at their most spread-out, spaced-out & paced out. I simply do not possess the writing skills required to explain the extraordinary sounds I’m hearing at the beginning of this song – “Skyline” speaks to your very soul, or at the very least, it was in a full-on conversation with mine. I’m not going to lie to you and say that the recipe behind “Skyline” is one that stuffed-full…the ingredients required here are somewhat minimal – but like a good baker or chef, it’s all about how you use those simplified ingredients to create something incredible. It all comes down purely to execution as far as “Skyline” is concerned…what Matt has done here on this song warrants a standing ovation as far as I personally feel about it. I think there is no other song on this record that will go on to surprise you as much as “Skyline” truly does. What I can’t remember is another time in my life where I wished that six-plus minutes of a song would go on forever and ever…not saying it hasn’t happened, but right now I can’t even recall and I don’t want to – I just want this. More and more, of this. “Skyline” is absolutely incredible…its calming demeanor and smooth sounds with captivate you entirely and make you want to go for a swim within the depths of its atmosphere. I could lay in this song for hours; it feels safe, warm, inviting…comforting…awe-inspiring.
Another tough act to follow for me personally…after the stunning sound of “Skyline” we’re met with “Sunrise Symmetry,” which opens spectacularly. The dramatic tones from the piano are combined with excellent synth back-up…and for the first minute the song ends up drifting along dreamily as “Sunrise Symmetry” begins. It doesn’t remain an instrumental, Fleming pops into this track after that first minute has passed…and I’m not so sure what I think on this one. He’s already impressed me with his vocals in the previous tracks…on this one I think he’s good too…but there’s something nagging at me about this track. I suppose I feel like…well…the rest of the album has been so extraordinary in terms of its unique ideas – despite any comparisons I’ve made, it’s always felt like the sound still belonged to the overall concepts and ideas driving One Formation. On “Sunrise Symmetry” I almost felt like rather than taking us into his own world like Fleming has countless times throughout this record, that he was venturing into someone else’s instead on this cut. Almost somewhere near territory from The Cure or The Airborne Toxic Event…so you can probably see what I mean from those comparisons alone and how different they’ve been to the rest. It’s another dimension of the overall sound of One Formation though, which I like and appreciate…and that piano-line is inarguably powerful…and to be truthful, I even dig the melody-line of the vocals quite a bit and love both the bands I’ve compared him to for that reason…but I’m not sure if it fit this record or not. Might just be me.
“10 By 3” will surprise you as well. One Formation sure seems to understand how to use the full duration and space inside of a track, and “10 By 3” will definitely go on to prove that theory. Love the groove that this track hits-up just on its way into the second minute…jazzy…still ambient, but jazzy. Excellent dreamy feeling in the beginning half of “10 By 3” – but it’s still got a long way to go at six-plus minutes…and where there is light, quite often as we all know, there is dark. Nearly right at the halfway-mark, “10 By 3” takes a more haunting twist in its demeanor and remains that way with a slow-burning electro-intensity and guitar combo that grips you. Just as you settle into it and pass the four & a half minute-mark, the electro-pulse speeds up until it’s straight out of control…and then out of nowhere, One Formation up and decides to EDM/IDM the living-daylights out of this track at the end. After everything I’ve heard so far – there is NO WAY I would have predicted this moment coming about! Interestingly enough…as diverse as this switch was from the rest of the record – I felt like this fit more still than I did a track like “Sunrise Symmetry” did. It’s a seriously glorious moment and highlight of energy on this One Formation record and a brief glimpse into what is a clearly massive skillset that Fleming has. In this less-than two-minute ending to “10 By 3” – Fleming serves up a quick reminder that he headed towards the ambient & light-sounds by CHOICE…clearly he could be any kind of electro-wizard he wants to be with the incredible energy-burst you’ll hear at the end of “10 By 3.”
Hard to remember this is all a DEBUT record! What an impressive ride and adventure this has been – Fleming should be extraordinarily proud of what he’s achieved here on this album. For one guy…one record…eleven songs…he’s kept me completely captivated and absolutely enthralled about what he’s doing here, even providing me with some of the highlights I’ve heard this year in music overall. Not bad for a first time out right?
Wrapping it up with the jazzed-up beat of “The Side You Will Never Know” – One Formation leaves us with another fantastic combination of atmosphere, tone and moods colliding in contrast throughout this final song. I loved where the vocals sat in this mix…they’re in there just enough to be able to catch that they’re even there – and as a result they blend right into the music hauntingly & gorgeously, all at the same time. The hypnotic repetition becomes key here at the end…and even as the sounds & samples increase and become more intense, it’s the steady-grind that keeps our attention focused and listening. Loved the isolated ending – thought it was a perfect final moment on this record like the cherry on top of your sundae.
It’s been a serious pleasure listening to One Formation. I think ambient-esque music is always a tough one to find an audience…but I think there is such depth and incredible ideas & soundscapes so fully explored on this record than everyone out there should give it a try. Guarantee there’s multiple tracks on this record that will speak to you on some level – I know they sure did to me. Considering this is a debut – Fleming has wildly surpassed all expectations and clearly demonstrated that he’s ready to be a leader in the ambient electro-genre, or any genre he chooses for that matter. Dude is just a straight-up great songwriter with amazing ideas – and his approach and execution…his dedication to clarity, tone, atmosphere, sound and the incredible work he’s put in are what make this record truly extraordinary.
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