To me, music journalists seem like organised people; they enjoy making neat little piles of artists, giving them a collective name and then trying to identify new artists within this current crop. It doesn’t always seem to pay off though; take folk music for instance. The term ‘folk’ (or ‘nu-folk’ by the ingenious writers at NME) is now applied when describing any artist who plays an acoustic guitar. Why, I don’t know. But it’s because of this that everything from James Morrison to Paolo Nutini, Mumford and Sons, to Noah and the Whale, and Johnny Flynn to Laura Marling, is now identified under this one title. It’s now such a broad, loose term that it’s arguably lost its original and unique character.
However, there’s something in the subdued austerity of Matt Bentley‘s debut LP, ‘Entropy,’ that makes it inherently honest and more importantly, folk in its most simple and true form. With its engaging melodies wrapped around compelling narratives, there’s something of the old character of folk channelling through the entire record; the songs sound weathered but refreshing, inspired but never forced.
It’s Bentley‘s dexterity with an acoustic guitar that emanates most powerfully throughout the record. Although ‘Entropy‘ unfolds with the bold, pronounced, downbeat strumming of ‘This Old Time’ and ‘Sacrifice,’ becoming more fervent in the chorus surge of ‘A Thousand Times’ (a track that sounds more Gaelic folk than nu-folk,) it’s during ‘Instrumental In A-Minor’ that the tuneful acoustic sounds come into their own away from any distracting vocals. Its perfect swelling melodies, ripe for a TV commercial or a scene in a drama, could easily have been taken from any Joni Mitchell record.
When this mellow acoustic balladry is harmonised with emotionally-charged piano chords, I feel it’s then that the album flourishes. ‘Entropy,’ akin to the ‘rootsy sound’ of John Hiatt, is loose yet disciplined whilst its uncomplicated arrangement brings the intimacy of the track to its forefront. On occasions, he fills out his sound with subtle strings (‘Clockward’) synths and floating vocals (‘Sonata’) it’s with the latter that Bentley‘s majestic finger plucking seems more delicate than anywhere else on the record, before it abruptly comes to an end.
As with most other LPs though, there are a few tracks on ‘Entropy‘ that clearly struggle to emulate the strength and originality of the rest of the album. ‘Worm,’ for example, coloured by its use of animalistic metaphors, fails to engage due largely to its brevity. Meanwhile, ‘Little Johny’ comes across awkward at times with its bursting narrative, whilst the lyrics of ‘Hurt You’ (“I want to make you feel like you should die / But I don’t know why”) don’t run smoothly alongside the track’s rigorous guitar melody.
Otherwise Bentley‘s lyrics, largely consumed by failed relationships, convey something deeply personal and beautiful. In ‘This Old Town,’ for instance, he seems disillusioned with home, lamenting: “this old town means nothing to me,” but there’s a clear subtext to this when he admits: “it’s so hard to trust people / fading memories.” There’s bruised dignity in his voice in ‘A Thousand Times’ (“We were together long enough to matter / Wrong place, wrong time, wrong people”) and ‘Entropy‘ (“There’s nothing for either of us to save”) where he seems to be at his most restrained and vulnerable. But as his vocals soar in desperation during ‘Here One Day,’ it’s then that he seems at his most revealing; he seems helpless to save something that’s quickly disappearing, hoping that someday things might go back to the way they were: “One day that you need me call me up and call me up and baby ask me where I’ve gone.” Without a doubt, those three minutes are some of the most poignant, intimate and intense moments of the entire album.
In the end though, at a time when most other artists are coming up with sonically eccentric and experimental records, Bentley has done something so traditional and simplistic that it’s no longer conventional by today’s standards; ‘Entropy‘ is stripped-down, basic in its production, sincere and dignified. For that reason, it’s worth repeat listens.