Review by Kent Manthie
Originally from West Virginia, Matthew Conley grew up in this lonely neck of the country with very limited exposure to a variety of music that, in his later life, would turn out to be a good thing. With little to no influences shaping his musical outlook he would end up being an iconoclast who created his own flavor of sound.
Before venturing into the musical arena, Conley had gone to school to study photography and after graduating, did some time working in commercial photography, which helped him cut his teeth on the ins and outs of the biz. Eventually, however, he branched out on his own, with a desire to dabble in the artistic field and to eliminate the barriers to his creativity.
After striking out on his own, he acquired a Macintosh computer in order to edit his photographs and as a way of organizing his business. With his Mac came an early version of music production software, called Garageband. This nice extra, combined with his 10 or so years of musical knowledge, via the guitar, eventually pushed him in the direction of the music world. At first, he’d use this somewhat primitive, yet very workable home studio kit to create his own compositions, which he did, in his spare time. He was still working at photography at the time, which took up the majority of his time; he’d travel all over the world, doing various shoots during the next several years.
Inevitably, it seems, he found himself stuck with a decision to make: was it going to be a life of photography or would he get into the musical creation full time? Soon enough, he realized he had slowly turned from the visual arts to the sonic and from there he took off on a new road. His one Mac and his acoustic guitar were soon augmented with MIDI controllers, various microphones, a hodgepodge of ethnic instruments, things he’d discovered in his journeys as a photographer. Then he got himself a turntable and built up a modest record collection. Many hours of practice and trial and error as well as refining his sounds led him to gradually build up his own, unique sound.
About a year ago, in April, 2013, he came out with his first release – a five song EP called Help Yourself. The tracks were put together with a mish-mash of sources such as old vinyl records, “found sounds” as well as his own creativity unleashed on synthesizers of his own – some custom made and some ready-made. He put a lot of effort into not just the music but even the CD cover and the 12” vinyl copies of Help Yourself. He screen printed the artwork onto the covers for the CD & vinyl jackets by hand on recycled chipboard. Each individual copy got its own hand-written number.
Having, one can assume, enough of small town West Virginia provincial life, he’s been quite the world traveler since, having spent much time in India, including the city of Goa. He currently makes his home in the now-thriving desert oasis metropolis of Dubai; home to huge, shiny skyscrapers, modern amenities, hip clubs and lots of oil-rich billionaires. Dubai’s been in the spotlight of late, becoming known for the beauty that all those petrodollars have supplied to build this dreamscape up in a relatively short timespan.
Anyway, his latest, full-length CD is entitled Imaginary Places and it is an apt title. The instrumental, electronica is otherworldly. Something that living in these gorgeous, exotic areas have shaped and molded. The album starts out with the title track, then moves to “Elysian” and “Oort Cloud”, taking one through a mind-bending journey through time and space. Each tune seems to just seamlessly wander into the next, with a panoply of mostly synthesizers that lay down a smooth, silky wonderland that goes from “Imaginary Places” to the depths of space, to the quiet, spiritual paths, unknown to most and even to the microcosm of deep inside oneself. The final cut, “Hyperspaced” is a blast back to the farthest reaches of the cosmos and by the time you get to the end of it, you’re surprised that the trip was so smooth, without turbulence and immaculate.
The best way to really enjoy the full effect of Imaginary Places would be with a good pair of headphones, so you can really absorb the full effect of the very well-done production which shows what a dedicated person who is really dead set on it, can accomplish, with a built-up home-studio that’s grown and grown over the years to include the means to perfect the sonic landscape of the album. -KM