A well-honed classical sensibility has always been running through the work of Matthew Coleman, a.k.a. MJ Cole, like words through a stick of rock. Whether it be the pristine arrangement of his Fuck Me Pumps remix for Amy Winehouse, the bait-and-switch of Matlok’s Watford Gap, or the cerebral chords of his break-out 1998 hit Sincere, it was only a matter of time before this aspect of his productions was given time to shine on its own, and so it proves with Madrugada.
The record focuses on Coleman’s piano playing, a warm and intimate atmosphere where more often than not one can hear the rhythmic movement of the hammers. String accompaniment lends an air of cinematic grandeur to the proceedings, particularly on Psalm 892, while Knocking manipulates samples of the organic instrumentation with the skill and flair of Todd Edwards.
The term ‘easy listening’ is a little taboo these days, often replaced with the more benign label ‘ambient’, but these ditties represent the former in every meaningful sense. Take Far Closer, a beautiful tune which tugs at the heartstrings flagrantly and shamelessly, or Resolution’s meandering melody, 19th-century romanticism with the sturm-und-drang swapped for a bit of atmospheric reverb. Solo Waltzer, meanwhile, is surely destined to soundtrack many a cliché protagonist low-point in TV and cinema.
Pretty though it all is, this reviewer can’t help the feeling that a few more tricks in Coleman’s playbook wouldn’t have gone amiss on many of these tracks. Indeed, the pre-release of remixes in lieu of singles from the record (including a far-superior MJ Cole remix of Strings For Jodie) indicates that this side of his style is a tad incomplete without the other. For sticking on in the background while relaxing or doing something more attention-grabbing, however, Madrugada takes some beating.