Matt Maltese leans back from the piano his eyes cast to the heavens, and a mischievous, border-line malevolent grin edges across his face. He closes his eyes and lets a loose sigh drift from his body. There is a decadent, deadbeat charm in the way that he moves. A sly humour and quiet self-deprecation in his words that isn’t immediately obvious on listening to his record. In this place, in his place, up on stage he plays host to a hall of ghosts, both living and dead, with a wit and charm reminiscent of dark balladeers that came before him like Cohen and Waits.
The appeal of Blood, Sweat and Beers is that it was recorded live last year in front of a small audience by Hugo White (from some band called The Maccabees) and captures this young songwriter in his natural habitat, inchoate but replete with potential. Across five tracks and a poem he shows us his dark side and its beauty, he leads us into the heart of the apocalypse and we are happily led.
As The World Caves In begins on the final night of humanity’s existence. It’s a love song for the end of the world. With the bombs about to land and extinction creeping ever closer, Matt declares his heart: “Oh girl it’s you that I lie with/As the atom bomb locks in/Oh it’s you I watch TV with”. And in these final hours he finds respite in dark humour: “You put your final suit on/I paint my fingernails/Oh we’re going out in style babe/And everything’s on sale”.
No One Won The War is Matt at his most fatalistic. He looks out on the misery of the world, on the everyday failings of people, on our ridiculous attempts to appease our guilt and notes that No One Won The War. There is bitterness here, and a deep unquenchable sadness, yet also charm. The song’s central conceit is heavy but the instrumentation is soft and intimate, his whispered baritone beguiling: “The new day is now done/Did you hear another gun?/Some folks had their fun/There’s an awful lot of blood.”
The songs on this EP are piano-led, and backed by minimal instrumentation which doesn’t include drums. Rhythm comes from the bass and from the pacing of Matt’s vocals, unhurried like a bedtime story. Strange Time sums up his approach. It tells the tale of the death of a relationship, of one last night, of darkness and lust. It is brutally honest, borderline filthy, equally nasty and sweet, and Quiff loves it: “We sure have a strange time/But we sure do it right/We sure have a strange time/We’re getting stranger every night.”
So here we stand on the outside with Matt Maltese, a little gang of freaks and geeks falling for this five track confessional. Blood, Sweat and Beers highlights the rising career of a gifted songwriter and potent lyricist. He looks at the world with an alarming honest, yet always leaves us smiling and asking for more, more of the nihilistic beauty in his darkness.