Matt Lowe’s 12-track Median, released November, requires attention just at the title. Think of the difference between average and median, and then think difference itself. In interviews Matt offers the middle position as a viable choice of approaching life, since it offers a view of what’s flanking it from all sides. Yet, as track 11 (“Open Skies”) states, our middleman is still “half man half amazing indeed,” and we should take him at his word since one prevalent motif throughout the album is reflection as such, even confronting his alter ego in the mirror in the final, outstanding track (“Pride and Reasons”) that doubles as manifesto. Though this other side shows up in several tracks, Median is, true to its name, dedicated to life above the cement as well, airing the troubles of living under a corporate world as lamented in the half-instrumental and half-sung “Over Again,” and as told in the origin story “Too Slow” where Matt sympathetically portrays a man too afraid to live an “unchecked” life, but who “maybe a way’s down will start facing his fate and stop counting off the days it’ll take” before his dreams are obtained. It is through lines like this that we experience Matt’s respect for the underground, as it is colored here as something worth waiting, working, and sacrificing for (in “Heroes” Matt even proclaims that it is resolutely worse to go corporate and “let my dream die and let my mind rot,” one of the most common themes of the underground). And though destiny shadows every track, Median defiantly asserts, as in “The Bell Curve,” that “we shape the days until the day we lay in peace.” Indeed, what is so great about the grey space of the median position is that it maintains mobility, albeit fraught with, or vulnerable to, uncertainty “under the weight of it all.”
Let’s begin with these words’ containing track, the anthemic bonfire anti-torch song “Over Again.” At 1:10 the verse finally comes in to match the opening ambiance set by the anomic, debilitated, almost defeatist chorus. You can tell boldness in night travelling, but in repetition confidence, too, pierces through, as when the verse starts with “I can wipe the slate clean but,” a unit given again in the second verse, except then given over to change. But it’s not like the narrator has given up innovation, since when he first tells us that slate-wiping would “erase leads on the trail needed to chase dreams,” he then later states that he’s already “made peace with the shattered pieces that make me.” But Median does not capture a world so freely determined, so glad-giving, as Matt raps “so often I try / to swallow my pride / move constantly like / it’ll help me not get caught in the cy- / cles but still / I can’t stop wondering, Can someone tell me what the fuck is going on?” But Che’s revolutionaries will travel with gun in “the world unraveled to a string / and [walk] a tightrope between the gravel and the dream,” even against the odds of a determined world that implores you to “smile for me, go wild for free, / ‘cuz you know that you can’t stay there for long,” which after repeating changes to “before you collapse beneath the weight of it all” before returning to the chorus. But here Matt breaks out of the cycle. He cuts that shit off at the final word, making the final decision in production before soaring into one of Median’s more beastly tracks, “Open Skies,” to declare, “I chose my path as much as my path chose me.”
And if you must know, Matt is at his most ferocious on tracks “Heroes” (#4), “Circle Aronud” (#6), “Open Skies” (#11), and “Pride and Reasons” (#12), so if you want to throw this review away now, you may. However you wouldn’t be the only one missing if you added these four tracks to his single “The Belly Curve” on your “must” list, as I think hip-hop is giving us, and itself, something rare: the singular universality where everyone has access to the divine in the state of being part-of-no-part, as when he raps, “my days are like yours if the sun didn’t rise / and you looked inside the universe under your eyes.” Often I feel the costs of the craft, that costs are a concern for Matt, so that the human aspect of the artist is reserved, as opposed to one typical rap motif that holds lyricists are more-than-human, gods, but check out “Heroes,” his first video-recorded solo: “I found a life lost is the price of patience / apologies to those sitting while I find this bacon, / a lot of me knows this mind of mine’s mistaken.” It is also interestig to hear the mid-life crisis viewpoint adopted on “Too Slow,” the track earlier mentioned that takes on Slug-like proportions through a life narrative. But keep in mind Matt Lowe’s band, Greyspace, and his first self-produced “single” (unreleased), “Grey Space,” and you’ll see again his origins and the consequence of his aesthetics: a t(h)rust in comprehensiveness in the systemic inclusion of slant contradiction, as when he asserts himself as a “young man timidly chasing an old dream” in “Open Skies,” yet another Median track speaking to the working days of the serious artist. In the same track Matt’s restless fuck syndrome spits in one breath the spirit to “stand like a man [so] I ain’t taking a seat / my own cake’s in my teeth” and that “staying in one place is a disease.” And then Matt’s mantric state descends upon those who claim everything is free to install a reign of the “faithless inbetween the grace and the greed,” a position consciously forging between extremes a plausible state of grit and redemption that stipulates “the upperhand don’t make the man.”
I know it is too simple to reap the metaphors of sitting on the fence and having one foot here and there (in fact, Matt has his own take on the “foot in the door” line), but it is altogether different when it is proclaimed on the cover of a CD. What then must ensue is fidelity to the rare act of putting it all on the sleeve, lest it become a gimmick. In “Off of the Edge” we get Matt’s most trenchant responses to the crucible of making a living through getting one’s shit together and the risk of conducting a life of “false consciousness”: “thinking on your feet isn’t even standing on your own two, / keep on pretending that this panet owes you, / giving dap and laughing with the master that’s controlled you.” As an exception to the paradigm of rap being a young man’s game, Matt declares “I’m not trying to prove that I’m young” and continues to age well into his “two cents of advice” where he says something like “don’t hide your worst, that’s where your best is and find us”—or is it “that’s where your bestest can find us”? But whatever it is, something of Matt’s character compels us to hear the communion, as if there will be a place of belonging at the end of the road. This revolutionary act of installing a community within a field only accessed through commitment to the act is heralded in the messianic invitation to “follow me, / stand up, / we moving off of the edge / like it’s the cause to live.” In the final verse our hero admonishes us to “grab that funk by the fistful / then put it in the sky like your trouble’s a blissful. / Shit fool, make the most out of the nothing they give you,” a magical act in terms of logic, for sure, but bear in mind Matt’s humility to make sense in the rest of the verse, “so we pull all we can from the gutter when the rents due / and don’t stay well acquainted with the cousin of death too, / and it is what it is with the drugs and the sex / the blood and the sweat / involved with the drugs when they hit, boom.” Considering the revolutionary claims of this track the instrumental that follows testifies to a wordlessness inherent to the duration of the revolution.
But to break the cycle would be turning a deaf ear, rather than listening to the silence. So perhaps Median means something else with this interlude. Perhaps the revolution had already occurred (at the front cover) and we are listeners of a new vocabulary, and this instrumental is the “white noise” that we once inhabited and are now breaking away from by accepting the invitation of “Off of the Edge.” I think that this “white noise” is simultaneously the sound of the abyss that we’ve walked off into, that with the reflections of Median we are then able to “make something out of the nothing” the mundane 9-5 work week gives us, as explicated in Matt’s work. The consequences of Matt’s Median, by virtue of his fidelity to his title of choice, is the capacity to let us hear the silence, to see with our ears. The dark, drunk chorus of the opening track manages to harmonize, “I can feel my heaven, I can see my hell. your secret’s safe in here, and I will stay those cold days, in the dark where we can paint forever.” We listen to “we” so that “we” can listen and follow the captain’s log of the opening track that “saw paved road and drove past it” where mastery can project into the future “with the buzz and the gray / mix of love and of hatred / with disgust and amazement.” Therefore if Median can seem a bit rough and hemmed in by concerns of success, take the purpose personally. Median is an album of a man both young and old, who works methodically, painfully, through populist means, but who, like Prometheus amongst the titans, is suppressed in the face of the faith now made possible with the advent of the non-All in the split between doubt and knowledge.
The subjectivity Matt ushers in his music is one open to breaks from within the circle of life, and the final lines of the last paragraph are directly asserted in the amazing “Circle Around”: “we don’t let the doors close mechanically, trying to break out where the doubt and the knowledge be. ” I want to head to a close on reflections of reflection. The track continues the conversation initiated in track two when Matt raps that his “shadow’s made its peace with the slate’s grits”: “reflection stressing, Is that all you’re asking me?” At this point, in the middle of the album where the growing pains and seeming social indenturement sets in the tracklist, the reflection plays the torturous Law, the censurious Superego, that can never be satisfied but nonetheless eggs the subject to persist in its transgressions: “no answers to say / and even when the demon seems to cackle its name, / pass the chance to refrain and stay fanning the flame.” In the next verse the reflection still vexes the subject with perverse insinuations so that the subject, “while the tent is just burning, […] took offense at the warning [and the] reflection’s stressing, “Poor thing,” until more sing.” Yet, what is important (in a tragic mode) is that “our ego seems to say that the effort is worth it, / half a judgment but don’t fucking show respect to the verdict.” The emphasis is mine. What is this demon? It is the artist in the mirror, but at this point the artist demanded by an art “conveniently damned.”
But let’s seek a consonant inconvenience. The last track (“Pride and Reasons”) offers a more sympathetic reflection, as well as a completely different type of reflection. Median closes on a note shared between Matt, his shadow, and his reflection, a fitting conclusion with an equally ambitious production value. Matt begins with a too familiar scene (“I’ve been called a lot of adjectives / since my shadow’s started answering the questions I’ve been asking it”) before Matt asserts that “we can’t cash in at the cost of our keen sense,” a normativity new to the scene of the album. If Gramsci’s differentiation between “good” and “common” sense is legitimate, then what about the difference between “keen” and “common” (again, this nuance should signal for you the intelligence Matt brings to his work [he even references Edgar Allan Poe, for those literary minded])? So despite the “tidal waves” of the artist’s career and the album (consider its track order), we have finally arrived somewhere where we can, if not sit then, stand, a position which is alien to those un-inoculated by some art form, so “that’s why most couldn’t comprehend / exactly just how inconvenient these dreams get,” dreams in relation to which you must keep in mind the earlier quote to “give up the dreams you used to need.” Throughout my review my mainstay belief has been that great art teaches us by opening our minds to live in novel ways, and I’ve been trying to get across how Matt’s median stance produces for us a state only accessible after the hardships chronicled in the album, hardships which inaugurate a new matrix of affects. Finally, too, after the traversal guided by Mr. Lowe, we can learn that “there is no difference between teachers and leeches and leaders,” a dreary thought only when one hasn’t listened to the rest of the album where Matt identifies with his listeners with the comradely “we” and how in the last track the act of reflection changes the coordinates so that the reflection itself reflects, and thereby proving a change in difference, and truth, truth as a reflection changing as if through a shift in degrees inward, too: “how truth as the image seems when it reflects.” One has to reconsider here: What is truth not as an image? What is truth not as an image not reflecting? I’m not sure what, and Median surely is an object that can be played in the mind over and over, and one would see an echo of some former truth, but I think that would do. After all, the word about all this is, “If you seek reasons you can keep them.” In a similar way to the commonplace, Median shows us what we’ve always shown ourselves, contradictions, and what we’ve always known, change, but didn’t know we knew, since we are as a society so practiced in binary living that we’ve forgotten the third way of the middle, from where we can cross the road after looking both ways.
By Arian Cato
Purchase the album: http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/mattlowe