Matt Berry may be best known for the theatrical booming voice, arch mannerisms and suave womanising of his various comedic guises, but before Steven Toast and Douglas Reynholm there was Matt Berry the musician. His twin careers often cross paths as on Dr Lucien Sanchez’s lovelorn <ahref=“http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=8BwQBjJvN5Y”>One Track Lover’ in Garth Marenghi’s Darkplace and the weekly song sequences in Toast of London, the theme song of which is an instrumental version of ‘Take My Hand’ from 2011’s Witchhazel.
The pastoral prog-folk dressing of that album and last year’s Kill the Wolf may seem somewhat distant to his comedy personae, although the wholesale adoption of psychedelic folk imagery (see songtitles like ‘The Badger’s Wake’ and ‘Solstice’) isn’t unlike an actor assuming character. The occasional hint of louche soul-funk aside, Matt Berry disappears much more readily in his music than he does in any of his acting roles by reigning in that bellowing voice, often singing in a higher register than you’d think him capable and creating wonderfully lush bucolic pop that is more than deserving of your attention in its own right.
Music for Insomniacs, is not so much a new direction as it is a detour into dark uncharted waters. Recorded prior to Kill the Wolf and conceived as an antidote to the titular condition suffered by Berry at the time, it consists of two twenty minute-plus instrumental tracks inspired by the likes of Mike Oldfield’s Tubular Bells. Berry told 6music last month that he was trying to find a middle-ground between ambient music and music that’s too hectic to be restful. And it works! Well… by that I mean it’s good, which in fact could be something of a problem. I put it through my own rigorous test – headphones on, in bed after 10pm on three non-consecutive nights. The results: two out of three times I listened from start to finish awake and I bloody enjoyed it.
In Music for Insomniacs Berry has created a synth fantasia of dreamy soundscapes for the wakeful, but with a greater dynamism and more grandiose scale and momentum than most ambient music. A talented multi-instrumentalist, Berry makes use of everything at his disposal; there are numerous synths, bells, pianos, woodwinds, malleted percussion and found-sound (horses hooves, creaking doors etc) crafting something both epically lush and full of subtle moments. Berry makes a knowing nod to the influence of Tubular Bells by opening ‘Part I’ with a close approximation of the intro to that record (perhaps better known as the theme from The Exorcist), albeit appropriately softened with warm hand percussion and bass buffeted by billowy choral "aahs". The following passage sounds submerged with gentle ripples of warm keys emanating from a two note sub-bass loop. Having negotiated the stars with blissful ambience and a nightmarish pounding cacophony, the first side ends with a deliriously catchy synth-pop tune – all crisp programmed beats and vocoder - that would go on to become Kill the Wolf’s ‘October Sun’ and also feature on Toast of London.
‘Part II’ takes a similarly scenic route to an infectious closer with taut gleaming synth textures underpinned by a steady motorik pulse. Highlights along the way are the Flaming Lips-esque symphonic pop of the first section and the moving piano piece which morphs into a dramatic swell of choir and synth strings that stays just the right side of electro-space opera.
If you believe in such a thing as an artistic disposition, it is said that those possessing one often find their inspiration and conceive their greatest ideas in the dead of night. So long as it provides Matt Berry with the inspiration in evidence here the sadist in me almost hope he never sleeps. Perhaps there should be points off for the fact that it’s ultimately too engaging to work as lullaby. Instead let’s just say he should have called it Music BY AN Insomniac.
8Neil Ashman's Score