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‘Cognitive Concrete’ review: Matthew J Van Howe pushes boundaries on new album

By February 10, 2023No Comments2 min read

Chicago-based composer and songwriter Matthew J Van Howe releases his album, Cognitive Concrete, merging the elegance of classical music with dark, synth-heavy experimentation, challenging musical conventions.

A technophile, Van Howe utilizes exceptional instruments such as the EWI and state-of-the-art AI in his creative process.  

After graduating from Trinity Christian College, where he studied choral arrangement and classical piano, Van Howe released a series of singles and EPs, followed by dropping the long player Transmogrify, pervaded by industrial rock elements.

Van Howe then extended his repertoire, directing a film, Voice of the Vespers, designing a board game, Hadrian’s Line, and working as a musical director and choir director. In 2020, he released Emergent Narrative, blending ambient music with hints of choral music into vast spacy milieus.

Recently, Van Howe, in collaboration with VJ, DJ, and developer, Lerk, performed his new video live and in real time on Twitch. Building custom control panels for the iPad and mapping functions to an Xbox controller, they shot, edited, and added special effects to the music video for the track live.

Encompassing 14 tracks, Cognitive Concrete begins with “groundwork,” opening on fluctuating, droning tones riding syncopated percussion. The tune shifts to dreamy, classical textures topped by velvety vocals, and then takes on industrial-lite surfaces.

Entry points include “thebeautifulones,” with its quavering, alluring bassline and sparkling piano. Drifting vocals imbue the lyrics with almost elegiac savors, giving the song a melancholic feel. “cincodecinco” features eerie, gliding synths atop a rhythm thrumming with angular beats. Spanish-inflected vocals infuse the lyrics with ghostly operatic timbres.

“inapocketofmyownchoosing” hums with dark, industrial vitality, verging on the ominous. Whereas “brotherversusbrother,” an evocative, gospel-flavored a cappella song, exudes tints of country aromas.

The intro to “andhishandswerefullofdirt” conjures up suggestions of Nine Inch Nails, and then alters to classical opera tangs as antiphonal vocals imbue the lyrics with numinous aspects. The last track, “iwishiknewwhy,” perhaps the least experimental track on the album, rolls out on shimmering, misty, shadowy tones, akin to waves breaking on the shore, followed by assuming new wave essence.

Unquestionably experimental, yet full of tantalizing harmonic swings and mystifying vocals, Cognitive Concrete reveals an elemental spirit.

Album art courtesy of Matthew J. Van Howe

  • - 7/10
Randy Radic

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