Minor Matter - S/t
Released June 17, 2016
By Chloe Sjuberg
When we talk about contemporary folk, instrumental music doesn’t always get a lot of space. Lyrics and lead vocals are big parts of the genre. But with their debut self-titled album, Minor Matter might change the way you think. The Saskatoon quintet describe their experimental, largely instrumental music as “orchestral folk,” and that doesn't even quite capture the unique sounds you'll find here.
The album’s beautiful cover art — an intricate, textured abstract pattern in delicate colours — fits the tone of the music well. Influenced by classical and jazz, instruments take centre stage that we rarely hear outside of those genres — like clarinets and bassoons. And they certainly don’t feel like decorative novelty touches. All five members are multi-instrumentalists who confidently play with sound and rhythm, and every element feels intentional. With instrumental music, you get to concentrate so much more on how each sound interacts with the others. You have to do a bit more work as a listener, bringing to mind your own themes and imagery, and Minor Matter’s complex and atmospheric music makes doing so a delight.
The album begins with what sounds like a classical group tuning up to quick, intricate percussion. This opening song, Hypnotisant, is a delicate arrangement of horns and winds with light acoustic plucking to brighten it up (and that’s no guitar you hear, folks, it’s a baritone ukulele).
It's on the next piece, Those Stars, that Minor Matter really starts to kick down those genre barriers. Whispering drums, gentle horns and light vocals break into an unexpected rock riff, which then quickly incorporates an eerie jazz-club wind section. Surprises everywhere! Like classical arrangements, each song on the album seems to have two or three distinct movements.
Barren Ground, one of the few songs with lyrics, includes rhythmic, wintery strumming and vocal harmonies like a small choir of carollers. The vocals on the album have an almost instrumental or rhythmic presence themselves, although that’s not to imply they’re wordless vocalizations. It’s just not the lyrics themselves that take particular precedence over the other sounds, for the most part. It's no surprise, then, that lead composer Jeffrey Popiel shared in an interview with us that "the human voice is yet another instrument we have available. . . . If the instruments can tell an enticing story, then there is no need to say a single word." Sacred Harmless is somewhat of an exception, but it’s still the summery play with vocal harmony that I was drawn to. And once again, although it sounds like an acoustic folk song for the most part, there’s a new “movement” as woodwinds assert themselves in the coda.
There’s so much more to dig into on this album, from Royal Tour’s Latin-y horns to the springy, jazzy silent-movie sound of Tight Beach Sandals, but I think it's best that listeners explore and interpret the songs for themselves.
Like orchestral cinematic soundtracks, Minor Matter’s music would be great to study or work to, but unlike a soundtrack, every song sounds very thematically different. Calming while also keeping me on my toes, Minor Matter have put together a complex but accessible album that I find incredibly refreshing.