Trophic Cascade

Matthew O'Neill

Underwater Panther Coalition, 2017

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


Matthew O’Neill wants to blow your mind—or at least crack it open and pour in a potent mind-meld of early Pink Floyd space-rock, Jerry Garcia-esque laid-back roots music, and Native American-inspired earth-and-sky spirituality. (And funk. Do NOT forget the funk.)

Singer-songwriter-guitarist-environmental crusader O’Neill and a team of fellow travelers set out on a journey across the continent here, exploring landscapes that seem both grounded and surreal, singing songs of the earth even as the music sends them all tripping high into the atmosphere.

Opener “Bridge Builder” starts on high churn and builds from there, a psych-funk number whose crunchy thump is tamed only by O’Neill’s laconic vocals, unexpected horn accents and a gospel background chorus. It’s a trippy, intense ride (“I’m going back upstream / To another dream”) that makes a range of musical promises that the rest of the album proceeds to keep.

The gently picked little guitar riff at the core of “Golden Boy” is as sunny as that title implies, set off by distorted slide notes, looming organ and O’Neill singing soothingly of explorers: Vikings and Cherokees and Pilgrims. Here and in one or two other places on the album he manifests a touch of Neil Young in his vocals, a keen that’s almost a second voice in itself. Skipping like a rock across a pond’s surface, “Ain’t No Way” takes more of a chiming alt-country feel, but slumbery and off-kilter and adding soul-tinged background vocals; it’s like early ’70s country-rock on mescaline.my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

The Meddle-era Pink Floyd influence comes on strong with the dark “Poisoning The Well,” featuring stabbing Gilmouresque riffs and an anguished vocal that finds O’Neill adding David Byrne to his influences as his vocal becomes an intense, at-times almost atonal soliloquy that contrasts rather than complements the song’s melody. “Gates” sums up the vibe here in a single phrase, “psychotic dismay,” on a tune that feels like a dreamy, mellow Frank Zappa.

The sweeter-toned “Louisiana” delivers a slinky, jazzy, slightly loopy feel, like Steely Dan after four or five shots of tequila, with a soaring, echoey guitar solo that again channels Gilmour. The sleepy-eyed country-rock returns for “Stand Tall” before the scene devolves even further.

The second half is all over the map tonally, from the mystical tribal chant feel of “1000 Years” to the straight-up honky-tonk country rock of “Breakstride.” As the former unfolds you imagine firelight reflecting off dancing bodies as the flame flickers in the dead of night; the latter sounds like classic Wilco weirdness, right down to the 1:56 run time. “Telepathy” has a similar fragmentary feel, a brief hallucination that collapses in on itself two minutes in.

“Alzheimer’s Blues” opens as a sort of raunchy blues-rock with more Byrne influence on the vocals, full of elastic vowels over chunky blues-riffing. “There You Go Again” tucks a soul-jazz horn line inside a loose, spaced-out main arrangement. Meanwhile, late highlight “Tonkashila” offers an echoey, foreboding anthem whose primal feel and lumbering cadence inspire visions of the Cowboy Junkies covering “Immigrant Song.”

Closer “Re-Launching” opens with clean, sunny chords, a breath of fresh air that finally feels a little optimistic after track after track of foreboding music. Trophic Cascade ends up feeling like one long segmented dream / hallucination, carrying a gauzy, surrealistic feel through song after song.

The questions Trophic Cascade asks—like, is it possible for someone to sing a little like both Neil Young and David Byrne while writing songs that sound a bit like lost B-sides from pre-Dark Side Pink Floyd?—are all answered “Yes.” Matthew O’Neill follows his vision here, populating these tunes with a multitude of influences while sounding like no one but himself, a sort of mystic shaman sketching out his dreams and hopes for the earth he loves in the language he knows best: music.

Rating: B

User Rating: Not Yet Rated



© 2017 Jason Warburg and The Daily Vault. All rights reserved. Review or any portion may not be reproduced without written permission. Cover art is the intellectual property of Underwater Panther Coalition, and is used for informational purposes only.