Matthew Frederick : Fragments03.04.2020 : Staylittle Music
The bucolic acoustic haze of the single Hay-on-Wye, released last September, suggested that Matthew Frederick's debut solo studio album, which the track was trailing, would be something special.
The complete set of songs, due out this April, sustains that impression - Fragments is one of the finest albums to come out of Wales in the last five years.
The pensive Penygraig musician has already worked on two Climbing Trees albums - gathering a Welsh Music Prize nomination on the way - and released a live solo LP and a studio EP.
Although his previous work has been rightly lauded, Fragments marks a significant step forward, not least in the emotional reach it demonstrates.
Frederick retreated to the rural setting of Mwnci Studios in Hebron, Carmarthenshire to record the new album. He played all the instruments, from guitar to glockenspiel to drums, himself.
The arrangements bear the mark of his singular imagination and the peace of the environment. They have the deep-grained sense of space that characterises classic Americana.
Fragments holds ten compositions - two surprisingly good instrumentals (Timelapse and the title track) and eight self-penned songs. True to its understated but definite heritage, the music they present demands an open road (as tested, the A470 at Trawsfynydd is perfect) or a seat at a low-burning fireside to be fully appreciated.
Frederick's template is straightforward. Clear-cut, heartfelt vocals and simple instrumental elements are skillfully layered and interwoven to create a complex emotional effect. Choruses reach for celestial heights from melancholic depths. The resulting music is almost dream-like; pace and mood may shift but the immersive lull of the songs is pervasive.
Fragments opens strongly. Leave the Light On is a beautiful, enigmatic love song. Laura Jones essays softly around the same small town mind-scape that Climbing Trees’ epic Graves did, with a similar uplifting magnificence.
After that convincing start, there are still three absolute highlights to come.
Dust Cloud is a sublime, drifting tone poem of regret, instrumentally shaped by muted acoustic guitar and piano.
Hay-on-Wye is a masterclass of pastoral evocation, 'a borderland re-imagining of Granchester Meadows with more secondhand bookshops', and the final piece, Morning Smile, a compelling sketch of love.
The whole album has an exhilarating grace. That too might have been predictable - Fragments is the hard-copy evidence of an accomplished singer-songwriter finding his rightful creative place and recording a set of timeless, transcendent songs just for the sheer joy of it.
MATTHEW FREDERICK I Fragments