The product of Atlanta duo Mattiel Brown and Jonah Swilley’s time together shut away in a remote woodland cabin is testament to seamless collaboration
A first listen of Mattiel’s third album may have you wondering if it’s the same band that brought us an eponymous debut in 2017 and a 2019 follow-up, Satis Factory. Perhaps that is a slight exaggeration; Mattiel Brown’s vocal delivery is still unmistakably the same person, yet her tone is softer, not so full-on and even more delicate. There’s also more of a catchiness that pops up here and there that was nailed perfectly on 2021 EP Those Words, which also featured another decent cut in the shape of Freedom Feels.
But the energetically captivating Those Words was possibly the first track Mattiel had released that had people sitting up and taking notice; as such, its absence from Georgia Gothic is a disappointment, maybe feeling like a misfit on an album that was largely crafted in a different manner to those earlier albums. For the first time, the majority of a Mattiel album has been put together with a far greater level of direct collaboration, Brown and multi-instrumentalist producer Jonah Swilley shutting themselves away in a remote woodland cabin close to their Atlanta base, becoming “one creative entity” in the process, rather than working more separately before bringing things together.
Georgia Gothic covers much ground on its journey; whilst individually tracks are short – nothing clocks in at over four minutes, giving the album a very poppy feel – there’s more to the collection than brightly sparkling three-minute pop songs, but that is undoubtedly the place where its highlights sit. Lead single and album opener Jeff Goldblum is first to impress, being an infectious nugget of sugary fuzz-pop with crystal clear production, a song penned due to Brown’s long-term crush on the movie star in question.
On The Run declares “today’s the day I couldn’t stay” as the resignation of a relationship coming to an end takes place. And it’s the classic “it’s not you, it’s me” scenario as we discover through further lyrics of “there’s nothing wrong with you”, the story being framed within another catchy template, albeit a less impressive one than its predecessor. But then the excellent Lighthouse recovers the bar and raises it much higher – if one song could single-handedly promote a band to a larger audience then this is it; it’s upbeat, insanely catchy and highly enjoyable. Its chorus is in the same vein as The Primitives’ Crash, perhaps, without sounding particularly like the ’80s classic.
The heart of Georgia Gothic, though, is rather underwhelming. After the opening trio of catchiness, the wheels fall off slightly with, ahem, Wheels Fall Off, the track completely at odds with what’s gone before, and another single Blood In The Yolk does little to recapture those early moments. Towards the end of the album, things get plainer still with the unexciting duo of Other Plans and Boomerang adding little, before closer How It Ends sets a kind of rap to a funky beat for a slight upturn in events. The second half of the album passes you over too easily, with the chorus of Cultural Criminal offering its best moment.
Swilley’s contribution is considerable, having played most of the instruments as well as producing the record, and with the writing process mainly stemming from his musical ideas, you get the impression he’s the one pushing for the catchier elements to shape Mattiel’s future. If that is the case, then following this direction appears to be the way forward for the band because these moments stand considerably clear of their companions. To produce songs that listeners want to stick on over and over again is the holy grail, of course, and although the whole album doesn’t manage to maintain this level, the highlights could stay with you for a considerable time.