Album Review: Matthew Mayfield – Recoil

The opening riff on Matthew Mayfield’s new album Recoil is a redefining moment for his music and therefore his fans. While we’ve always heard an earnest songwriter expressing thoughtful lyrics, there’s something captured in the guitar that is itself emotive. Recalling some of Mayfield’s own musical heroes from classic rock, this album Recoil taps into some of the rawest emotion we’ve heard in Mayfield’s exceptional discography. For fans of his music, Recoil is more of the Banquet for Ghosts vintage and deserves equally high praise.

“History” has that killer riff, but it also has some captivating lyrics about a past relationship. Mayfield often turns to relationships for inspiration in lyrics, but what makes “History” different is that he doesn’t seem to “just” be singing about something in his past. He’s bleeding about it for us. He’s letting us all feel his heart in a way that far too few musicians do today. Odds are if you’re reading this line right now, you’re reading it because you’ve felt something in Mayfield’s music. That “something” is the authenticity that can only come from broken hearts and the hard work of life as a touring musician.

“Raw Diamond Ring” is another song rooted in a broken relationship. Although I find it a compelling song in its own right, I do think it fits nicely in with others on the album as part of an unfolding story. The following track, “Indigo,” though takes the album in a slightly different direction. The upbeat syncopation gives the song more of a pop rock sound and a little less of the stripped down emotive feel of the opener. The thing about “Indigo” is that it feels a little more abstract than others on the album, but there’s a real sense of adventure to it. I imagine Mayfield smiling while singing this one, expressing something just as deep but from a brighter place in his soul. Sometimes we make the mistake of thinking that for someone to be deep it has to be sad or melancholy. But as Mayfield writes, “thought that God was real in both the good and the bad ways, on the good and the bad days.” That’s one of my favorite Mayfield lines not just on this album, but on anything in the last 10 years. Clever and powerful.

Now “Turncoat” digs into Mayfield’s sound from his Blue Cut Robbery repertoire a bit. It wrestles with some ugly emotions that have to do with a broken relationship. Where some songs lament what could have been, this track insults what never was. It’s dark and angry in all the right ways. If you listen to this song and can’t relate, you’ve lived a charmed life. For the rest of us who can connect, the pure raw energy of it demands and increase in volume and a few swears of our own. “How’s that dagger look inside my back? I still can’t find your reason…” Wow.

To the extent that an album has or ought to have a pinnacle, “God’s Fault” is that moment on this spectacular album. It is a measure of introspection, as is Mayfield’s standard, but this one brings something extra. It’s like he dug into a deeper place than usual, focusing on that self loathing that so many experience and so few can express. Initially I found the drum beat to be distracting, but after listening a few times, I was able to feel the way that it mimics a heart beat. It’s a climactic moment, though, in the specific verse when he cries, “this ain’t God’s fault Matthew… He still toes the line… this ain’t God’s fault Matthew… I’m afraid this one’s mine.” The song conjures images of guilt, shame, and a powerful sense of conviction. It feels trite to call it “moving,” but it just is.

There really are no “skip” tracks, but for the sake of length I’ll skim through a few. “Warfare on Repeat” is the closest to a “folk” song on this album, pulling out of the darker rock feeling and crooning more of a narrative style. The concept of “warfare on repeat,” lyrically is intriguing, especially as it dances around the concept of alcoholism and addiction. The following “Merry Go Round” has a nostalgic element to it that will definitely make some fans in the over 30 crowd. There are tones from some old school 90s alt rock feelings on it, but it also has some really incredible layered lyrical moments that remind me of something that the Foo Fighters might have done years ago. It has a nice sing-song quality to it, which I’m sure will be great to sing live with a venue full of 400 of my closest friends.

“The Wolf in Your Darkest Room” goes dark again, opening with a series of perfect minor chords and Mayfield’s whispered bass vocal. His versatile range comes across as “natural” for him, but is really a remarkable quality that’s been cultivated from many years of wanting to be a rock star. You can hear in the way that he delivers these lines, especially “you don’t seem to know how far I’d go,” that he’s confessing a darker side. It’s unbelievable how Mayfield is able to shift between these different tones on one album with such variety. This dissonance and electro elements take the track in some different, conflicting directions. The chaos feels appropriate for the song’s message.

“Wreckage” sails back toward a more melodic, narrative style. There are nostalgic elements about a “love that didn’t last.” Mayfield’s ability to get back to these moments shows a soul that is just different than the rest of us. Where you might smell that little bit of perfume or see a movie that reminds you of someone you were once with, Mayfield seems to dwell in the emotions of past moments far more. It seems like it would be both a blessing and a curse. The point of the song, though, with its driving rock ballad style is to contemplate what it means to dwell in that wreckage. “Show Me” is a bit more of a pop song, kicking along with a nice groove and more introspective lyrics. There are more parallel spiritual lyrics on this track that seem to work well with the strained vocal style. It comes across as a sincere song, longing for someone to show him “how to love.” It’s a different kind of intimacy that seems enraptured in a present moment rather than dwelling on a past situation.

The album concludes with “Long Way Down,” a slow and methodical track that unpacks more pop instrumentation, but with a heavy commentary on what seems like addiction. “Devil take my hand… it’s a long way down.” For what it’s worth, I appreciate Mayfield’s ability to wrestle with his demons so publicly. These allegories and metaphors that make up the album are so vibrant and incisive, I find myself nodding in approval, but gritting my teeth in despair. It is no reduction to say, “I feel you, brother.” Because I do. We all do. That’s what makes this music so endlessly satisfying.

IF you made it this far you can tell that I unequivocally recommend this album. It will rank on my end of year list. But more to the point, it’s one of the better albums I’ve heard from anyone in recent years. The genre-bending and redefining qualities of this album are nothing short of groundbreaking. It’s a shame an artist like Mayfield doesn’t get more critical acclaim, because he’s not just “indie” good or “not bad for a road weary artist.” Mayfield is a generationally significant artist. His work speaks to me as an “old millennial” in ways that I imagine Springsteen spoke to Gen-X. It’s not just pop or folk music; it’s high art that expresses the depth of human experience in intricate sonic textures that bring joy, anger, loss, suffering, and nostalgia all in a single listen through the album. I have no doubt you will experience several listens through once you get a taste.

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