EP Review: The Hearse (2018) by Matt Maeson

Released April 27th, 2018

Let me tell you about one of the greatest artists you don't yet know about (unless you follow me on Twitter, or you really pay attention to Spotify's Viral chart.) All you really need to know about Matt Maeson is that he toured with his father's prison ministry. I hear he even performed at some biker rallies--you know, the usual venues at which all of your favorites have performed. Think of him as a Jeff Buckley-inspired artist with a hard-to-pin-down-to-one-single-genre sound and a rough past he wants to share, because from what I've experienced through listening to his music, that's nearly exactly who he is. And it's a good thing. 

The Hearse is the second EP from Maeson after 2017's Who Killed Matt Maeson (another personal favorite of mine.) Are you detecting a theme with his EP titles here? I suppose you could call it his third EP if you count Black Lungs, an EP released in 2012 under his real name Matt Mason. Semantics aren't important here. What is important is why he added the e to his name. I choose to believe he had to change his identity because he upset a particular biker gang by being more talented than their leader. Some nerd might tell you that he probably did it because he needed to differentiate himself from the country singer from Nashville also named Matt Mason sans e, but you should never listen to nerds. 

Track 1: "Put It On Me"

Don't you love when the first track of a collection immediately sets the tone for the rest of the collection? This song does that.

Hung high and dry, where no one can see

If there's no one to blame, blame it on me

It's the mix of these opening lines and the song's excellent production that lets you know what you've gotten yourself into. Maeson--with the help of frequent collaborator James Flannigan--writes lyrics that tell various stories from his troubled past. "Put It On Me" is the first of six tracks that are about to give you an intimate look into a stranger's life. I love songwriting like this. I'm not saying I'm above listening to more generic pop songs (have you read my review of Gwen Stefani's album?); however, I find myself gravitating more toward songs--and albums--that weave a story that you can just tell is related to the artist singing them on a real level. Not to get all "THIS is REAL music, man" on you, but THIS is REAL music, man. 

On a critical level (this is a review, after all), this is not my favorite track on the EP. I enjoy the lyrics, the vocal performance, the instrumental, and the production. I especially enjoy the track's backing vocals, and they are definitely the strongest element of the track for me. I think I wish the track had more build to it. Or maybe I think the build is fine, and I wish it had a bigger payoff after said build. Or maybe I really enjoy all six tracks, and I'm just trying to justify liking this song just a little bit less than some of the others.

All in all, "Put It On Me" is a strong opening track that sets the tone and leads to some admittedly more enjoyable ones.

Track 2: "Hallucinogenics"

Okay, let's just get one thing out of the way: that may or may not be an actual word. Maeson claims to have created it, and I'm inclined to believe him.

"Hallucinogenics" was the first single from The Hearse, released on March 30th, 2018 along with a music video. The track prominently features acoustic guitar. This is something I've come to expect and enjoy with Maeson's releases. Now that I'm typing it out, I think "Put It On Me" falls lower on the list for me because it doesn't feature the instrument. I respect him for trying out different sounds, but the first tracks of his that I ever heard all featured the acoustic guitar, so there is a part of me that selfishly wishes all of his songs would follow suit. Wow, I love ~digressions~. 

The lyrics tell the story of Maeson struggling to leave his old self--and ways--in the past. The opening chorus details how Maeson's drug use affects his perception of reality and the present.

Pushing past the limit, tripping on hallucinogenics

My cigarette burnt my finger, cause I forgot I lit it

The more interesting thread in the track's story is how the drug use affects Maeson's relationship with someone in his life. This unnamed person's exact relationship to Maeson isn't explicitly stated, but the pre-chorus strongly suggests that it is a romantic interest or partner.

Cause I just couldn't open up, I'm always shiftin'

Go find yourself a man who's strong and tall and Christian

The drugs ("xans") make him lose sight of what's important to him. He wants to open up, but he finds it too difficult. Against his own wishes, Maeson has fallen back to his old ways.

And then I crawled back to the life that I said I wouldn't live in

Back on the relationship thread, he has now forgotten everything.

I don't remember your face or your hair or your name or your smile

Yeah, this song is pretty depressing, but the production is deceptively almost uplifting during the chorus, before bringing you back down to the somber reality of what's really happening during the bridge. Maybe I'm overthinking it, but it seems like the song mimics the experience of a drug-fueled trip. The chorus is the euphoric high, and the bridge is the inevitable crash. I've never done recreational anything, though. So, yeah. Probably overthinking it.  

I wish I could say this story has a happy ending, but the lyrics just don't seem to contain one (please prove me wrong.) On the bright side, a beautiful song was able to be produced. I really hope it's creation was cathartic.

Track 3: "The Hearse"

Hey, the title track! It really does feel like all of Maeson's releases have led up to this moment. 

First, remember when I mentioned the sorta-not-really official EP Black Lungs? Well, it's referenced in this song. To be fair, it might not actually be an intentional reference. It's more likely a side effect of Maeson writing such personal lyrics. With all of his songs being so closely related to his own experiences, similar themes and imagery was bound to be shared between EPs. Still, the fan in me wants to believe it was intentional.

I can't scrub off the black from my lungs

I can't wipe off the taste from my tongue

The track also answers the (pretty obvious) question posed by the previous EP's title: Who Killed Matt Maeson?

I am the shadow driving the hearse

I mean, that's pretty clear, right? At any rate, Maeson has already confirmed the answer on Twitter.

What I'm saying is, this track alone features elements from three different EPs. I love self-referential art when it's done right, and I hate it when it's down wrong

Musically, the lyrics roll right off your tongue. This track is the most enjoyable to sing along to. You could argue that the lyrics are too repetitive, and I might listen to that argument, but like I said before, I respect Maeson for trying out different song styles. This song is produced well, and like so much of Maeson's discography, it perfectly juxtaposes serious, often depressing lyrics with an upbeat and (with this track especially) a--gasp!--"radio-friendly" package. 

Track 4: "Cliffy"

This is a really enjoyable track to listen to. The bridge is the best bit for me. But if I'm being honest, I'm clueless as to who Cliffy might be. Cliffy might be Maeson's dealer, but since the lyrics play the pronoun game, Cliffy could also be Maeson's dealer's son. Or maybe Cliffy is Maeson and I don't understand how English works. Now that I know the answer to the question who killed Matt Maeson? the first question I ask Maeson or Flannigan (if I ever meet them on the street or wherever) will be who is Cliffy?. Does Flannigan know? Does Maeson know? Who knows? Do you know? The Shadow knows. Don't click that link.

The track touches on Maeson's seemingly complicated relationship with God and religion in general. While "Hallucinogenics" made it clear that Maeson was able to drown out and completely forget someone in life through substance abuse, "Cliffy" makes it clear that this isn't as easily done to God. 

So I rumble and I tumble with the man upstairs

He said, "Boy, you gotta stop holding out your hand

I'm not gonna go away, I'm still involved

You ain't drowing me out with that alcohol"

Since this song contains Maeson's conversation with God, if I'm not mistaken, the bridge references the Atonement and shows the beginning steps of Maeson reconciling his relationship with God.

Cause I bet my life on you

Oh, I bet my life on you

Oh, I bet my life on you

Oh, I bet my life on you

If you're listening along to the tracks as you read this (like you should be doing), then you probably have an idea of the common themes contained on this EP, and Maeson's discography in general. Maeson's relationship with God is one of the recurring, albeit less frequently, themes that I find the most interesting. I would love another EP focusing solely on this relationship à la Tyler Glenn, but I would also be happy with just a single track that focuses on it in a future release.

Track 5: "Unconditional"

This song might be perfect. It very clearly is about Maeson and his family, and I feel like it would be incredibly ignorant of me to say anything negative about it. If I had to pick just one song to ever experience performed live by Matt Maeson, I think it would be this one. The guitar, the vocals, the CHORUS! This is my favorite song on the EP. No contest.

Fun fact: the "Kendall" he mentions in the song is his sister, and she actually provided vocals on the track "Shoot Me Down" from Black Lungs. I guess it's possible she's on other tracks as well, but that's the only one of which I'm sure.

Track 6: "Mr. Rattlebone"

The most ethereal track on the EP, "Mr. Rattlebone" is the perfect ending to The Hearse. While I'm still unsure about Cliffy, I'm certain that Mr. Rattlebone is Maeson. I so desperately want a music video for this track. The last 80 seconds gave me chills the first time I listened to the track. I'm not sure if that says more about me or the music.

The lyrics go through all the damage that Maeson's use and abuse of drugs have caused him, and they also describe how he feels trapped by the part of him that has the dependency.

You're like the calmest slit to my neck

Bring me in closer

Spruce up my soul

Then you fill it with coal

 

Then you douse it in lava

Chained to my desk

Beckoning nausea

Desperately chosen from a crowd of one

If "The Hearse" answers who killed Matt Maeson? then "Mr. Rattlebone" answers how did he do it?

Mr. Rattlebone seems to be a part of Matt Maeson, but not a strictly physical one. Mr. Rattlebone is the conscience of Maeson. He convinced Maeson to kill his old self, and he stays around to remind Maeson why he did it.

Call me Mr. Rattlebone

Holy Ghost to haunt your home

They don't know you like I know

The song ends with the same line repeated over and over again, bringing the whole EP together.

I am the driver, I am the shadow, and I am the hearse

Conclusion

Maeson is accepting that he is responsible for his life and his fate. He damaged himself and his relationships, he trapped himself from progressing past his addiction, he finally sunk so impossibly low that he was near death, he took steps to repair his relationship with God, even though he may have thought he had lost everything, he found that he still had his family's love, and he finally began to heal, knowing that he would always still have a part of his past-self with him to remind him to keep pushing forward. 

But that could all be wrong. I didn't write these lyrics. Listen to the EP, and then ask Matt Maeson yourself.

This article was updated on May 1, 2018

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