The importance of where you are when listening to a piece of music cannot be overemphasised, especially in the case of Matthew Herbert’s latest, One One. The dynamics in this piece of work are so subtle, with everything set down so low in the mix that you simply can’t have any background noise. Try listening to it on public transport and you might not even be aware it’s playing.
In any case, listening in that way would rob the album of all its subtleties, its beautiful instrumental arrangements and its lightly soulful vocals. This time Herbert himself is singing, multitracked in featherweight harmony, with every piece of accompaniment – down to the hi hat – carefully pointed, like a house of cards.
The record drifts in to your subconscious, with a deep house beat slowly chugging into view as Manchester begins. The bass line begins to shadow the murmured vocal, adopting a technique used by Steve Reich. The tone is set – and the instant reaction is to shush everything around, to banish any extraneous noise.
Herbert sings from the heart as he tells the story of the day in the life of a man. “Share a little pill with me tonight, we’re gonna be just fine,” he entreats in the heady Leipzig. In a world weary dose of acceptance, Dublin proclaims how “I’m heading for disaster” – but winds up with a repeated mantra “everything is everything now”, which gathers power to end the song on a positive note.
Despite its lack of volume, this is a largely positive piece of work, reclaiming the intimacy of his first album 100lbs but with extra intensity. Palm Springs is an extraordinary mapping of kick drum and vocal, but the crowning glory is Berlin, which comes over like a subdued version of Underworld‘s Jumbo, but goes even deeper with its beautiful description of lovers meeting in a park.
It’s fair to assume the other two parts of Herbert’s 2010 trilogy, One Club and One Pig – on which he will make a whole record from the sounds of a Frankfurt club and another from the lifecycle of a porker respectively, will not be quite this reserved. But this is a special piece of work, provided it’s heard in the right environment. In our rushed age, where everything is loud and brash, it’s good to be reminded how valuable a little time out can be.