Matthew and the Atlas UK tour diary, with Mumford & Sons, Johnny Flynn & the Sussex Wit.
The first ‘new-folk’ song I ever heard was “The Box” by Johnny Flynn. Although I’d been exposed to quite a bit in the wider world of folk music, this new (to me) strain felt like coming home. Something about it just felt right, as if I were returning to something worn-in and well-loved. And as much as I adore all the English folk in my library, I hadn’t really experienced that transformative sensation since.
That changed when I heard Matthew and the Atlas. Maybe I have some primeval wiring that makes me respond this way, but for whatever reason–Matthew Hegarty’s hauntingly breathy voice, perhaps, or the beautiful fingerpicking–it just clicks. These songs, like Johnny Flynn’s, feel timeless; although they borrow from age-old folk traditions, they are utterly, poignantly present. The band’s new-folk label Communion Records (founded by Kevin Jones of Cherbourg and Ben Lovett of Mumford & Sons) perhaps describes it best: “the voice is the thing; it sounds a hundred years old and is etched with all the heartache and weariness that implies.” Matthew’s tone, at once rough and tender, is the perfect vehicle for these passionate declarations, and exquisite backing vocals by Lindsay West temper the grit. The result, so beautiful as to produce an actual ache in my chest, is almost cathartic in its expressive power.
Besides two released EPs, Matthew and the Atlas has been featured on the acclaimed Communion Compilation. The Communion label, which grew out of events at the Notting Hill Arts Club, celebrates and connects London’s burgeoning folk community. The band has similarly grown through the tight network of London musicians–Matthew even met banjo player Harry Cargill at a Communion club night. Given the talent in this small world of collaborators, it’s no surprise that music emerging from this scene feels so organic and natural. Matthew and the Atlas in particular returns not only to roots-style music but to metaphors and imagery drawn straight from the land. New EP Kingdom of Your Own sees seasons change, from falling autumn leaves and burning wood to melting snow. Even more than earlier works, these songs take on natural qualities: the rolling melodies of “The Waves” evoke the cyclical crashing of ocean water, and “I Followed Fires” conjures a scene of shooting and flickering flames.
The album has an underlying energy that is anything but static. Changes in dynamics and tempo are affecting, expertly controlled, and allow the listener to live each song’s emotional journey. The EP has a sense of forward movement–and does, in fact, illustrate the band’s stylistic progression. Their sound has grown and become more cohesive, and the album’s four songs expand an already remarkable emotive range. Like touring partners Mumford & Sons, Matthew and the Atlas emerged with a maturity of which many bands and artists only dream.
Kingdom of Your Own is a beautiful next step for an already accomplished band. Please do yourself a favor this month and let yourself be swept up in it.
I would be remiss in not posting this beautiful video, from the EP To the North.