Matthew Friedberger ~ Matricidal Sons of Bitches

‘I have hated many people in my life’, a young, French lady admits coolly in her recollective narrative, a faint smoke possibly rising on the drunken air of a dying cigarette, dropping embers of nicotine and covering the ground with ash, ‘but the person I hate the most…is my mother!’

Cue the dramatic, spine tingling dagger of a lightning strike, and the black and white headline blooms into view upon the screen in a striking panoramic image – Matricidal Sons of Bitches. That’s quite a title. As it fades, an invisible cast is revealed, along with an imaginary set. Matricidal Sons of Bitches is ‘not the soundtrack to not a film’. This film, or non-film, can either show for one night only, or as many nights as you wish.

The imaginary film plays on, like the early music that still decorates a long lost hotel ballroom, absorbing the once-frequented space in a residual haunting of past residents, dancing a waltz across echoes of a past era. Only, the screen and the film are not real, in a visual sense at least. Matricidal Sons of Bitches is ‘a non-filmed film’, and with a title like that, Matthew Friedberger has not only created ‘a horror movie made so economically that the film itself is unnecessary’, he has also cut up the score into musical slices full of the blackest of black comedy. The hope remains that the young lady confessing all is only an actress reciting her vacant lines.

Inspired by the B-movie studios of Poverty Row, or, recorded in Paris as it was, Poverty Rue, the music is not as dark as some would believe. In some places, it’s quite an uplifting experience. The financial limitations on the productions ensured that there was only a half decent script available, and the low recording technique may reflect the imaginary budget. The music conjures equally eerie and tranquil scenes, of a boat sailing down the river with young ladies onboard – perhaps the previously seen French lady – shading themselves underneath umbrellas as the cheaply constructed boat springs a leak, in the same way that black and white pops puncture a grainy film. It would be a picture full of people obscuring the director’s shots and the actors misplacing their lines as the background sets – or non-sets – fall over in a cloud of dust. “Cut!”

It doesn’t really make sense, which is a very good thing in its nonsensical approach. In fact, half of the beauty is that it doesn’t have to make sense. Comprising of four movements, or scores, and resulting in only 45 tracks, each one is a glimpse into the inner plot of Friedberger’s non-film. “Ladies -in-Waiting – Waiting Forever”, “Brand-New Mothers – Trying it Out”, “Expectant Fathers – In for a Surprise” and “Dying on the Sixth Side” make up the movements. Matricide is the darkest of subjects for any horror film to say the least, yet Friedberger’s B-movie concept is the kind that leans toward suggestion through the piano, and a total absence of blood and gore that isn’t often seen in movies of today. The music roams the Parisian back streets and less travelled alleys, but there are no pictures to prove this, because they didn’t film it.

‘She was always in such a hurry.’

Not only does Matthew Friedberger play in the indie rock band Fiery Furnaces with his sister Eleanor, he is also prolific as a solo artist. Matricidal Sons of Bitches plays out in a narrative of major and minor chord progressions, as we are intoduced to the scene of a young lady’s life with an inner evil intention. Friedberger places his piano among unknown actors, in scenes that don’t contain any superstars. They do, however, contain plenty of heart. The recording quality may not always be Hollywood, but this is the charm. Pasted together like a film in the process of editing, the music at times skips to a completely different scene, and the mood that associates itself with it. This cut and paste technique also adds to the uneasy horror, as scenes jump the reel in one or two minute intervals.

A Parisian birdsong and an uplifting major chord progression conceals the reality that this is a low budget horror film, or non-film, which could have been shot around Paris on a slender budget dated from the 1950’s, or perhaps even earlier, silently capturing the grandeur of the time. It was an era largely untroubled by the big Hollywood studios, and, as Friedberger states, ‘Since what could be more predictable then yet another film made up of something filmed? What could be more boring? And who could afford to do such a thing – film something, with some sort of equipment equipped to do so – anyway? Not I, says me’

“Tell Me What It Is You Want, Boys”, the third track of the first movement, is our first real appearance of Friedberger’s use of melody, a looping, ever-changing progression that buries itself into the mind and stays there all day, all night. Melodies remain a primary element on the whole album, even seen in the eerily fluttering harp and dated drums of “Same Every Night”. The plot lies inside a mind that has curved considerably, one that is now always set at a drunken, vertical angle.

“I’m sure It’s…For the Best” lightens the mood with its airy melody, as old synths play out a life story, caught by a director always on the move, filming everything in a frenzy. Areas of a breathe easy nature abound in Friedberger’s playful, eclectic experiments. Usually, the most frightening things stem from the tiny and the ordinary. Jealousy, and the guilt associated with it. Revenge, and the way we respond to others; horror dissects our inner mind and allows us to see things for what they truly are. In this sense, it may be the most eye-opening area of cinema, and so too is the music eye-opening, freed from any stylistic restrictions as Friedberger blends tribal percussion one minute, and mournful piano the next.

The “Brand-New-Mothers” movement displays this freedom to greatest effect, whether it be a fifteen second, faded arpeggio over a D chord, or a peaceful, fluttering harp, a clean toned electric guitar playing a melodic tropical paradise, or a tasty blues lick as the leading actor walks steadily closer in ‘Zeroing in Across the Crowded Bar”. “The Next Morning” is like the morning after – half a glass of a calypso cocktail spilled on the floor, blended with tribal drums and mixed with a tenor’s operatic voice. You may not believe your ears, but this is the red carpet of musical genius.

“Disappointed Dads” is the melodic high of the third movement, with its soulful chord progression, surprisingly gentle and somewhat sombre despite its tuneful melody. It’s the kind you could whistle endlessly on an evening stroll through Paris, and its also one of the longest pieces at four minutes, while a special mention must go to “That’s A Rendezvous And A Half!”. Although thirty seconds long, it sounds like a 1980’s arcade game, complete with a futuristic, electronic pulse, adding further to the film’s mystique.

Friedberger manages to stick all of these pieces of imaginary film into a (sort of) cohesive whole. Saying that the music is unique is an immense understatement. Matricidal Sons of Bitches also has a dark edge of insanity cusping the reels of matricidal film. The fourth movement focuses largely on electronic synths, adding a dark twist of crazy comedy in the shape of the frenzied, repetitive piano melody in “Popping The Cork”. It descends into a sadistic, spooky encore, in “Working At The Cemetery – Again”, a lonely night in the whispering wind of a graveyard after the studio has closed up; maybe the acting career didn’t work out as Hollywood moves on. The music sticks around longer than the silent era, and who could resist when Friedberger is on this kind of form? Not me, says I. That’s a wrap. (James Catchpole)

Release Date:  October 30

Available here soon

One comment

  1. Pingback: ACL 2012: Top Ten Experimental « a closer listen

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