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Mathew Jonson - Agents of Time


Wagon Repair

Despite his presence at the forefront of house and techno since 2004, it’s a little strange that it’s taken until now for Mathew Jonson to release an album. That isn’t strictly true, given his involvement with Cobblestone Jazz, but this is his first collection of solo material. Ever since the emergence of his It is What It Is label in 2001, Jonson has been a consistent presence, contributing a number of strong releases such as “Typerope”, “Decompression” and “Marionette”.

“Agents of Time” then is all the more unusual for wrongfooting the listener. Jonson’s recent singles have moved into darker realms of experimentation, on some occasions wanting to burst free from the basic constraints of 4/4 beats. This album does revert, at least for half of it, to the melodic ideas of his earlier material, but with a drastically reduced tempo. The remaining tracks concentrate on the darker, abstract grooves that have been a mainstay of his more recent releases.

It is to his credit that Jonson appears to be continually motivated to innovate, yet the results here are disappointing. His ideas flavour the album with a certain feeling, but lack tension. More pertinently it seems like a move backwards because some of these tracks would have failed to make a Mathew Jonson b-side in 2003 or 2004.

“Love in the Future” opens the album with a downtempo track; think of the glacial melodies of Dopplereffekt reduced to a walking pace. There’s no doubt that Jonson has a certain gift with key changes and harmony, yet the frustration here is that it lacks that sense of drama that made his earlier material seem so alive. From then on, tracks such as “Girls Got Rhythm” and “Sunday Disco Romance” seem to earnestly seek out new areas of funk to ally themselves to without ever really feeling sure of themselves. The latter does have a certain nocturnal liveliness that makes it stand out, but even the stripped down version of “Marionette” included here lacks the urgency of the original. It’s frustrating that none of the more uptempo tracks have the real feel of Mathew Jonson at his best - this is after all his debut album.

From then on in, he reduces speed and turns a corner with the spirit of Drexicya and Gerald Donald again casting a shadow over proceedings. Yet with even an 11 minute canvas in “When Love Feels Like Crying” Jonson prefers to keep his melodic ideas simple. The result is that after 4 minutes or so you’re left wondering whether it’s going to change and after that the interest is lost. The character of these songs do not stand up to repeated listening.

The final number “Agents of Time” does hint at something different, a murky dubstep-style beat providing the backbone to a melodic motif that is different to everything else on the album. It sadly comes a little too late to salvage matters.

“Agents of Time” feels out of place and comes at an awkward time in the discography of a musician who has received unstinting praise since his early material. The aesthetics and some of the ideas on display throughout this album are worthy of recommendation but deep down it is hard to get away from the fact that the songs aren’t. 

Toby Frith

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