One Foot in the Grave
There’s something to be said for not messing with a good formula, and with Confrontations, Umberto (real name Matt Hill—lacks “umph,” doesn’t it?) turns in an album of seven tracks that are not all too dissimilar from each other. Umberto, whose previous albums bear more than a touch of a ghoulish bent, seems to have relaxed things a bit here, with tracks that may not be completely removed from their subliminal sense of horror and doom but are offset enough to show a decent range of moods.
Things are almost unapologetically skin and bones here—relatively speaking of course, as nearly every sound on the album could be credited to some crafty minimalistic synths or a rudimentary drum machine. In this regard, at times the album floats between the sounds of excellent instrumental groovers Air and the dark, twisted minimalism of Suicide. Truth be told, this is more familiar territory for Umberto, with albums like From the Grave and Prophecy of the Black Widow bearing a similar approach. There is a nice opener in the form of “Night Fantasy,” whose flow and feel matches nicely with the “UFOs over an airport runway at nighttime” cover art for the album. Though the beat here is a good one, it isn’t too aggressively dancey, and instead feels like the half-way point between a dirge and disco. One thing it does do however is ride a compulsively catchy twelve-note bass riff for the majority of the song.
The formula isn’t a perfect one, however. Though the album nicely blends doom-and-gloom moods with almost cartoonishly agile synth work, there are times that feel a bit lazy or at the very least, uninspired. For one, Umberto makes it apparent he loves the choir loop sound effect on his rig a lot. Nearly every song on the album uses this trick—sometimes to better effect, other times to no effect at all—and at times feels like he is both literally and figuratively leaning on it to achieve the desired moods. A good example of the downside here is a track like “Dead Silent Morning,” which proceeds nicely for the most part, building a nice groove ripe for a stirring crescendo, before descending into more swelling “oohs” and “ahhs.”
The flip-side of this would be the excellent tracks, “The Summoning” and “Final Revelation,” which provide the satisfying tension releases one would anticipate elsewhere. The two tracks in question are also two of the more creepily orchestrated moods, which seems due doubly in part to having a good sense of dynamics and moving parts, as well keeping the choir effect more cagey and affecting, rather than distracting.
Many of the compositions here are good ones, and though the lines of subtlety are blurred at times, both in tone and performance, the experience of Confrontations is more pleasant than disturbing, even though Umberto’s artistic intentions would likely have you guessing otherwise.