[Editor's note: Weekly scribe Jeff Weiss's column, “Bizarre Ride,” appears on West Coast Sound every Wednesday. His archives are available here.]
“All profoundly original art looks ugly at first,” opined art critic Clement Greenberg. He was alluding to the abstract expressionism that he helped to popularize, but his mantra describes much experimental music as well.
A thin membrane divides the beautiful, bizarre and bogus. One man's Animal Collective is another's yelp for institutionalization.
Over the last five years, few L.A. musicians have more artfully surveyed the oft-jagged creative frontier than Matthewdavid, whether through his solo work or via Leaving Records, the label he co-founded with visual director Jesselisa Moretti.
“Music should be a progressive thing, and that's embodied in the label's releases,” says the spliff-thin Matthew David McQueen, 28, in the living room of his Highland Park aerie. He's wearing a Mountain Dew-green T-shirt, black cigarette pants, hair loosely swept from right to left and a light brown beard. There are shelves of art books, CDs, vinyl and enough cassette tapes to open a 1980s carwash. Above a heating vent, a trumpet lies next to a cassingle of Outkast's “Elevators (Me & You).” A guitar slouches in another corner.
“There's a humanity and universal consciousness, a deeper spiritual, psychedelic awareness that we're trying to convey to the world,” the Pensacola-via-Atlanta native says about his own music and that of his label, which recently raised its profile by signing a distribution and promotional pact with Stones Throw.
Overheard in a vacuum, these words could seem like hippie cliché. But Matthewdavid has an easy-natured humor and self-awareness that undercuts the seriousness.
He's also exceptionally talented. Where much experimental music feels like formless splatter, his beats reveal sublime chaos. It's psychedelic soul music that sounds nothing like psych-rock or soul music. The beats are carefully sculpted, codeine-slow and without formula. It's as though he worked to build a safety net made of hemp, but then smoked it.
This is how you get someone who grew up a hip-hop DJ and producer obsessed with regional Southern rap, who got so into experimental beat, noise and folk music that he moved out to L.A. upon graduation from Florida State.
He interned for Dublab and came to underground attention with 2008's Spills, a Plug Research-released album full of field recordings and tape manipulation.
See also: Flying Lotus' Nocturnal Visions
“Flying Lotus sampled it and that's how I got a co-production credit on Los Angeles. Hudson Mohawke and Ras G and other beat guys were listening to my weird, lo-fi, folk ambient album,” Matthewdavid says. “I was the hippie kid mingling with the hip-hop, Low End Theory crowd.”
He returned to beats with 2010's scalloped and silvery Outmind, issued by Flying Lotus' Brainfeeder imprint. Since then, the prolific Matthewdavid has produced everything: bedroom R&B; avant-garde noise-hop with Chicago rapper Serengeti; dancehall with freak-out kings Sun Araw and M. Geddes Gengras.
Noise-influenced DJ shows have evolved into a live act incorporating singing, rapping and an electric bass player. Befitting the legit outré American artist, he's acquired a loyal international cult.
With the largely cassette tape-only Leaving Records, Matthewdavid has pressed up limited runs from Ras G, Jonwayne and Knxwledge. The best-selling was Julia Holter's debut, Tragedy.
The first product of the Leaving/Stone Throw union, Dual Form, came out recently. Recruiting Holter, Sun Araw, Serengeti and Dntel, among others, the two-disc (or cassette) compilation covers folk, rap, electronic and psychedelia yet smoothly distills the appeal of Matthewdavid's diffuse but immaculate taste.
“A lot of people are afraid of the unknown, but we try to dive in head first. If you're willing to trust the mystery of music, then you're going to find a lot of soul, warmth and rewards,” Matthewdavid says. “Music should be sacred. It's about trying to remove the veil of the unknown.”