Even though he’s only 30 years old, Chris Maddin has been an important force in the local music scene for more than 10 years. His indie rock band Blowing Trees and his solo folk-rock project the Tiago Splitters have showcased Maddin’s knack for writing cinematic songs that convey a sense of universality, immediacy and topicality even while dealing with (sometimes) personal concerns. For his FILMSTRIPS project, now celebrating its second release (and first physical album), Maddin gives us an updated take on the old tradition of a singer-songwriter sitting down with a four track recorder and a guitar. On Sunday, when Maddin officially offers up COMMUNICATIONSOLDFASHIONED, the follow-up to 2010’s spotty but solid We’ll Grow on You in the Future (still available at filmstripsmusic.bandcamp.com), he’s really unveiling a whole new template.
I caught up with Maddin by phone last week and he said that “this is still a relatively new type of writing for me, but that’s what makes it exciting—you’re not limited by the instrument you’re playing, you can create soundscapes with all sorts of new colors and no boundaries.” Using a digital recording program that has a massive library of sounds to toy with and the ability to record and manipulate vocals has provided Maddin with the means of making fully-realized music without any help. So while you can expect Maddin to keep on writing music with his guitar and keyboards, FILMSTRIPS is an opportunity for him to work at once in isolation and with total freedom of sonic expression.
Maddin continued, “I mean, I’m always making beats or sketches and just seeing where they lead me. You never really know what a song will be until it just feels done.” This aspect of recording free from the burden of physical instruments and cantankerous collaborators turns out to be something of a blessing and a curse. Maddin reports that he may never have come around to feeling that these songs were finished if it weren’t for some timely guidance from another local songwriter, Douglas Miles Clarke. “Douglas really pushed me to finish this thing and he gave it a home as well,” Maddin noted, referring to the fact that COMMUNICATION will be released on Clarke’s Doubletap Records. One gets the sense from Maddin that he would continue working on this music even if there was no one around to hear it—just about the most endearing quality you could ask for in a music maker. With Maddin, the creation is of primary importance and everything else is just extra.
The songs on COMMUNICATION are sputtering and elegantly shrieking dystopian ruminations on a broken society, on the hope provided by love and on the general paranoia that accompanies growing up in this particular American moment. These are, in some ways, preoccupations that have recurred as motifs over and over in the various incarnations of Maddin’s musical odyssey, but on COMMUNICATION, despite the cryptic and dour title, there’s a deeper sense of wisdom and patience as tentative positive solutions are offered in place of complaints and questions alone. The answers the album offers are only partial, but they point us towards love and the magic of face-to-face interaction.
Even though some longtime fans of Maddin’s work may be disappointed at the distortion (even destruction) of his versatile, golden falsetto, the static abstraction works well in the context of this album. The few moments in which the singer’s voice does burst forth seem like blasts of solar warmth and clarity in an endless landscape of technology and cold distance. All in all, this album is a well thought out experiment in electronic music and its power to convey some of the same ideas as solo acoustic music, but in bigger, weirder and more interesting ways.
FILMSTRIPS feat. Small Black
8pm Sun, Mar 16
502 Embassy Oaks