There’s something startlingly comforting about Matt Monoogian’s debut solo album. Startling not because the self-described “singer/songwriter and sideman” has a penchant for a different extreme (his musical resume includes Odd Years, Alanna Gurr, Lowlands and Minotaurs, after all) but because HIDE is the product of a turbulent history that sounds anything but comforting.
The accompanying release reveals that underneath the tranquil notes and Monoogian’s gentle vocals is a “lifelong struggle with addiction, mental and physical health issues, namely his epilepsy” and the effect those parts had on each other. And while it’s not always laid out as openly as such, the knowledge imbues his lyrics, “How do you get back/ how did you get back home?” with extra depth, while the follower “It’s always the same tale, it’s always the same story told/ everyone knows that” fills “On My Own” with a cutting self-knowledge not at all in-tune with Monoogian’s mellow voice—but all the more poignant for it.
The one-man, multi-instrumental player proves to be a master at this technique, pairing jaunty music with bold self-exposure. Although perhaps it’s that “constant yearning” and “irregular air of confidence” that sees Monoogian through the ten-song revelation.
After all, HIDE opens with the aptly named “Sentimental Sounds,” suggesting the singer’s already found something to see him through. The stark album opens with a much stronger, louder bridge and a sense of possibility—reassurance, perhaps, about what’s to come. What does come next, in “Lashing Out,” asks “how far will I fall?” before Monoogian really gets into it and shows us a glimpse of the answer.
Instrumentally, the soulful titular “Hide” comes closest to matching itself with the album’s raw lyrics, a rolling whistle showcasing a solemn journey, building upwards and eventually onwards. By “Set Sail,” two songs down, there’s already a sense that Monoogian has no intention of standing still.
Which is possibly the exact touch that makes HIDE work so well—Monoogian bares all but never feels irrevocably lost. It’s that knowledge that fills the album with comfort. It’s dark, yes, but it also never gives up on possibility. And that, more than even the bleakest of lyrics, is what lingers on when the album plays out.
Top Tracks: “Hide”; “Someway”
Rating: Proud Hoot (Really Good)