Review: Joanna Mattrey – Dirge (Dear Life, Sep 24)

In addition to being a significant presence in the vast network of artists, creatives, writers, and appreciators I’ve joined in Brooklyn, violist Joanna Mattrey is one of a select but talented few musicians staking out their lot in the valley between legends Polly Bradfield and Henry Flynt, each of them combining a unique ratio of subversive extended techniques and earthen fiddle-folk simplicity to form their own approach. Unlike many of the tenants of this valley I’m fond of (Alex Cunningham, Tijana Stanković, Gabby Fluke-Mogul), Mattrey’s primary instrument is not the violin, but that doesn’t stop her from drawing all kinds of influence inside and out of the ongoing tradition of shouldered string instrument abstraction. For Dirge, however, she picks up the rare but distinctive Stroh violin (a violin primitively amplified by a flared metal trumpet bell; some real steampunk shit) to weave this delicate septet of tracks, its unusual sonic properties surrounding even the more conventional stretches with an ephemeral, almost ghostly tincture. Mattrey’s poignant, amorphous laments might resemble an actual solo dirge one might hear at a funeral at one moment and a harrowing musicalization of the raw sound of grief itself at another, but as a whole they are fundamentally indebted to the basic rhythms of human existence—inhale/exhale, heartbeat, movement both pragmatic and expressive—and reliably proceed as such, making Dirge a record that, for all of its shrieking abrasion, feels very much like home. I’m not sure anything better sums this up than “Bellows,” the brief yet memorable closer that reaches out with a welcoming embrace of distance, warmth, and light.

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