“You are my hearth, my home/ Stoke the fire/ I’ve been away too long/ Stoke the fire,” Brooklyn-based singer-songwriter Matt Gaydar, a.k.a. Glenn Echo, sings on “Hearth,” the ninth song on his poignant and incredibly vulnerable full-length debut, Fixed Memory. “My inner flame burns low/ Stoke the fire/ Burn me up, bleed me dry, dig me out/ Bring me back.” The sentiment is that of an experienced, maybe even forlorn lover and an older, more worn man than Gaydar’s press photos suggest. Yes, there are other recordings available online if you go hunting but this is a statement LP. And that, if anything, is a beautiful summation of Fixed Memory: deep and emotive without being at all overwrought or overbearing, the LP is a work of stunning, at times even alarming, maturity and not the sort of indie-folk outing you get on a feature debut. In short: if you like emotive acoustics, you’ve gotta hear this one.
Gaydar, more often than not, traffics in a particular kind of song-sketch, and many of his ideas have the feel of emotional love-letters delivered to friends over an impromptu campfire, instead of compositions on a recording proper. But don’t mistake that feeling of sketches – songs, like the beatific opener “Rising Wide-Eyed,” tend to end early or abruptly rather than wander to distant conclusions – for something half-thought or half-felt. On the heart-aching “Moon Seems Lost,” he occasionally breaks into a Withers-esque falsetto with his touching and highly quotable observations about love and sex. “But I will bleed for your voice and molt my skin/ Make me human/ Troubled by gray sky the moon seems lost/ In your eyes,” Gaydar coos. “Then we danced like stars in the night/ And let our limbs entwine/ Soon we left our bodies behind/ They hardened with sunshine.” The closing measures of the track, where he simply wails over unassuming, finger-picked guitar, will break your goddamned rusted heart in two.
This, of course, says nothing of the record’s intra-narratives or structure, which also seems to harbor some ambitions. Gaydar’s tunes are easy going down – pleasant aesthetically, even – and he often calls to mind the Daniel Martin Moore of Stray Age. But Fixed Memory is pockmarked with departures, from an occasional gauzy blues-lead guitar (on the excellent “Drink Up This Fire”) to song-length inverted tape-loop reels (“Folding Back, Our Memories Are Continuous”) to Haunted House micro-scores (“Twilight”), which lend some of the LP the taped-together ingenuity of early Bibio. The departures are far from perfect or pristine – it’s easy, after all, to get focused and get lost in the record’s core material – but even their inclusion has a weird intentionality, as if Gaydar is making some veiled comment about the nature of being flawed and being human. Much of the material on this disc wears its heart resolutely on its sleeve, which also, we are sure, will lead some to draw comparisons to Elliott Smith. But, before you write your angry missives, please note: Gaydar is careful to sidestep the photo-static reproductions. You can listen to him cover “Waltz #2 (XO)” on a great, little COVID covers set available on Bandcamp and you’ll hear how his delivery is more buttery than Smith’s, even – somehow, at times – more nuanced.
And then there’s “Hearth.” An outlier at 5:35, when most the songs barely crack two or three minutes, it has all the great details of a Gaydar masterwork – from the pitch-perfect falsetto delivery over easy finger picking to the collision of the seam-conscious digital and analog (here programmed drums versus birdsong-sweet acoustic guitar) playing out in real time. Here, the sketch has lots of dimension and there even are shades of strings as Gaydar repeatedly laments “Bring me back/ Bring me back” in the closing minutes. This is not the work of a novice. This kid’s onto something.
The record closes with “How Much Blood,” another wonder-filled little lament. By the time the finger picking has wound down to silence after just 3:04, the hints of piano accoutrements still in the air, you begin to wonder where someone like Gaydar goes next. Alt-folk can be a finnicky genre, prone to songwriters over-extending their compositions’ welcomes. But Gaydar has tapped into something truly magical on Fixed Memory. Get out your year-ending Best Of 2021 lists, kids: we’ve got a contender. — Justin Vellucci, Spectrum Culture, Nov. 14, 2021