The new solo venture from the frontman of BadBadNotGood is a chilled-out soundscape, with a few fantastic tracks and a classy, synth-pop vibe. Déjàvu’s nine tracks seem to offer insight into the tribulations and values of Mathew Tavares (Matty), through catchy hooks, laid-back grooves and clear production. While Tavares’ vocal performances across all nine cuts are warm and inviting, the record falls somewhat flat towards the end, failing to reproduce the feel-good atmosphere of the first five tracks. Overall, each song is very detached from the next, without any overarching connections or transitions, yet this aids the record in its pop-like approach to rock and indie.
“Embarrassed” enters with hollow, sweeping chords and, after a quick snare fill, gives us the first riff of the album. A lilting run of short synth pops, its infectious rhythm and vintage flair introduce the style and characteristics of Matty, here transferred into a great song. “I’m embarrassed to know you, at all,” he sighs, allegedly referring to himself. His soaring falsetto introduces the listener to his impressive vocal range and control. “Verocai” is a cool change of pace from this, with its skittery piano chords and luscious instrumentation creating a wonderfully simple song. A lack of drums and the great use of swells as well as string flourishes, coupled with Tavaress’ cries (“how can we keep this alive?”) make for a memorable second cut.
“How Can He Be” is an excellent track in its own right, with sweeter acoustic chords, a lovely chorus of backing vocals and steady drum grooves pushing for the tapping of toes. The bass lines in this track are a definite highlight, bouncing along and pushing the chorus to be more interesting and enticing. It is a solid pop song – while it is short enough that it leaves some length to be desired, it makes up for this in its cheerier feel, albeit with less joyful lyrics. While these first three tracks are rather short, adhering to conventional pop timings, the following cut “I’ll Gladly Place Myself Below You” comes in at just over five minutes. It’s somehow even more personal than other cuts on the album. In combining a slower, more ambient beat with more spaced-out, psychedelic tones to create a piece akin to that of GUM, or Sunbeam Sound Machine. It even exhibits characteristics of soul, utilising dreamy, yet dreary vocals and unique percussion.
Sadly, Déjàvu takes a dive with the following tracks “Polished”, “Nothing, Yet” and “Butter”, with all three failing to uphold the strong standard set by their predecessors. This can be attributed to their even softer, occasionally underwhelming approach to the synth-pop style so expertly explored over previous cuts. While the free jazz saxophone solo of “polished” adds some energy in its conclusion, the track comes off as disjointed and almost unfinished, as if it is a combination of two separate ideas. “Nothing, Yet” opens with potential with an inspired riff and combines this with an equally great verse, but its chorus falls short in its abrupt tempo change and uninspiring vocal melody. The 3/8 sway of “Butter” does make for a unique and interesting track, but a lack of substance and structure in bridging sections leaves the song in a bit of a mess, not helped by the sparing hits of accented strings.
“Déjàvu”, an eight and a half minute epic, is a brilliant way to offset the weaker tracks directly before it. The talent of Tavares is showcased in this driving yet ambient piece. After six minutes of instrumental bliss, the softer, enchanting vocals of Tavares take control, ending with the line “Thanks for all the wasted time, not that I would regret it,” perhaps hinting at past relationships, but literally indicating the end of this 35-minute journey. A controlled cacophony of swirling bass, guitar, percussion, drum machines and synthesiser, this title track doesn’t necessarily encapsulate the overall vibe of the entire album or provide a logical or reasonable progression from previous cuts, but it still exists as a great track and display of Tavares’ talent. A typical surf rock snare pattern propels the first segments of the track, yet Matty keeps away from the recently thrashed clichés of that genre, which is refreshing and inviting. The title track may stand separate from other songs on the album, but it still reflects possible future direction for Matty.
Déjàvu is a strong yet predictable release from Tavares, seeing the singer-songwriter break free from the jazzier explorations of BadBadNotGood, into something more pop and rock oriented. While some of its tracks fall short in their structure and direction, requiring further refinement, there are a few great songs which make for an enjoyable listen.