Matchess is the experimental electronic project of Whitney Johnson, a Chicago musician who is also part of Verma and E+. Her new record Somnaphoria is a follow up to 2013’s Seraphastra, which was re-released last year through Trouble in Mind. Johnson is out to challenge listeners on this album. The opening track “So Many Feathers” sounds like it could be an accompaniment to a Fritz Lang film with its nerve-racking string arrangements and buzzing electrical sounds. After a cold, mechanized introduction, the record crosses into an ethereal realm. The strings become softer and vocals are warped to a full cryptic effect. You drift in and out of consciousness until you can finally access this other spiritual plane where Johnson can finally connect with you.
This album is very explorative in how Johnson is quick to change the course of her sound immediately after a listener starts to feel accustomed to its weirdness. Just when she has numbed the extraneous areas of your mind and lulled you into a musical coma, she busts out an alien garage-rock groove on “Mortification Of The Flesh”. The following song “Sinister Prophecies Of Coming Catastrophe” sounds like a string concerto with an orchestra made up of short-circuiting computers. There are a lot of classical influences on this album and Johnson’s viola plays a variety of characters on these eleven tracks, but any kind of beauty or elegance she brings in are paired with an electronic tension. The penultimate song “But Their Chains” is a shining example of that. The beautiful, choir-like vocals are layered over a rumbling noise that gets brought to the forefront in the last minute of the song. While listening to the harsh sound of a plane engine (or maybe the outside of a car driving on a freeway), you’re able to consider the surreal ideas Somnophoria offers against the cold, hard sonic reality.
Somnaphoria is out now on Trouble in Mind records.