Once in a while I leave my familiar musical beaten paths and let my ears hike through trails blazed by others. I learn a lot that way — about myself, about music, about the world I live in and most importantly about the worlds that are , but which I don’t live in. Yanatay (Solstice Session Selections 2014-2018) by Matthew O’Neill is one of those trails through worlds I don’t live in – or sometimes have in the past but can learn and enjoy much from today.
A nine-song album released by the Underwater Panther Coalition, a record label seeking to improve people’s connection to Mother Earth through curated musical projects, I was captured immediately by the title song, “Yanatay” which intrigues with its lyrics and creates the joy and trepidation I felt years go when my small boat glided through the Peruvian Amazon rain forest.
Fossilized baleen on the windy ridge, Keratin crystals born in a past pristine
Before the edge of plunder, Offerings above the churning sea
Ceremony is something we need, I find myself in the future
I find myself in the past, Either way, this situation can’t last
O’Neill sings in his surprising gentle gravelly voice as bongos and guitar riffs move your mental boat through the musical jungle he creates. But when the trip ends, he hits you with down and dirty blues in “Manta Ray Floyd”, driven by an earworm guitar riff and his vocals moving from gravel to urgency.
He keeps up the rock but moves down the tempo with the roadhouse-sounding “Lay Me down” He shifts again to the, short, folksy intro, “Moon Nipple” and expands the theme in the longer (4:43) ”The Moon is the Nipple of the Sky” , a slowed down guitar-laden dirge in a semi-metal voice describing a world we seldom see.
Waiting for the ferry to call
In a fog not as salty as it used to be
It don’t bother me
I remember waiting for one of those boats, looking across the wide expanse of the Amazon near Iquitos wondering what awaited me in a village deep in the jungle down river…O’Neil surfaced that memory.
“Visitors Arriving” is simply O’Neill on his flute setting you up for “Turquoise”, an ethereal, echo-framed soft rock piece, followed by more melodic but still slow rock “Breaktrhough” whose lyrics ask you to join him in his travels
Mister I need a boat that I can mend,
Wanna travel, tool around the carribean
Colombia up to Biscayne Bay
Around the bend, The Yucatan
The album wraps with the experimental synth -driven “Captain Kurtz Orbits Echo Park”, a kind of a softly laughing period at the end of a more serious sentence.
Yanatay is sprawling and diverse, and definitely a trip, both metaphoric and geographic. It is not for everyone, it but has something for everyone. O’Neill’s music will be an acquired taste for some, comfortable for others, and adventuresome for all.
Listeners will pick and choose, maybe warming to his flute in “Visitors Arriving” but mystified by the slow dirge of “The Moon is the Nipple of the Sky”, while putting “Manta Ray Floyd” on repeat. This is natural: the album is a collection of recordings made in different studios with different collaborations over 4 years,- including Brazilian Girls’ Jesse Murphy and Aaron Johnston , the German artist Laura Drumbach, Dorma Shoturma on vocals and Kevin Killen on drums – but at its heart it is a paean to Mother Earth with all of her diversity, messiness and beauty. Try it out – it will grow on you and take you through some new musical trails.
Patrick O’Heffernan, host Music Sin Fronteras
Yanatay (Solstice Session Selections 2014-2018), by Matthew O’Neill. Released by Underwater Panther Coalition, 2020
Stream songs on Bandcamp and all major platforms. CDs and cassettes on Bandcamp.
Matthew O’Neill www.matthew-oneill.com
Underwater Panther Coalition facebook.com/UnderwaterPantherCoalition/
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