The new MXLX album – their first in two years – matches anything they have previously released, finds Nick Roseblade

“Yeah the time has come well, and its well overdue” grunts MXLX, AKA Matt Loveridge, on the opening track on new album Serpent. And he’s right. It’s been two years since Loveridge stuck two fingers up at us and told us he was retiring from making music. Some thought it was true, others that he had burnt himself out and needed a break. Either way, it was looking like his prediction was true. Then in late 2019 there were rumours and rumblings that he was working on at least four albums of new music. These rumours turned out to be true and the first new music under his MXLX moniker has been released. Serpent feels like peak MXLX.

‘You Are Wrong and I am Proof’ opens the album with a bass hum, before the swelling sounds of an organ erupts from the speakers. Loveridge’s guttural croon manages to cut through the tightly woven soundscape like a knife. ‘You Are Wrong and I am Proof’ shows that in the intervening years Loveridge has lost none of his ear for melody – nor his knack for reating organised disorder. As vocals, synths, FX pedals and vocals swirl around us, Loveridge creates terrifying maelstroms. In the past he has revelled in these feelings of dark discombobulations, but now there are areas of space where you can catch your breath before being hit with another glorious eddy.

As Serpent progresses, there is a feeling of self-reflection going on. This isn’t the same MXLX who released Documents Shredded // Communications Ceased in 2016 or Kicking Away at the Decrepit Walls til the Beautiful Sunshine Blisters Thru the Cracks. He has mellowed, slightly. This is evident on ‘Fuckin Had it With You Lot’. A monotone synth drones on in the background as Loveridge rambles on about losing his confidence in people and being sick of it. The final third of the song grows to a distorted crescendo before abruptly stopping. Then the album’s standout moment kicks in. On ‘Being a Bomb’, MXLX just lets rips. It’s sheer noise from the beginning. Throughout Serpent you could feel the tension bubbling under the surface, but Loveridge showed restraint to keep the songs from descending into chaos, but on ‘Being a Bomb’ he just unleashes six minutes of pent up aggression and perfectly measured turmoil. Usually it’s the tendency to end a song with a writhing ball of noise, but here Loveridge starts off with it. As ‘Being a Bomb’ continues, the individual elements of the song becomes more defined. Loveridge hasn’t lost any of his nuance.

At the end of ‘Mood Bruiser’, Loveridge says “I don’t know how I feel”. After listening to Serpent, I’m not sure how I feel either. As usual, with any MXLX release, after a first listen I’m in a state of ignorant bliss. I haven’t started to unpack everything I’ve heard, but I know I’ve enjoyed it. After a few more listens, it all starts to make sense a bit more. With each listen you start to understand the complexity of each song and start to get a handle on the points Loveridge was trying to make. Typically, though, Loveridge is lyrically vague. It is down to the listener to draw conclusions to what he means. As the album is called Serpent, and he alludes to snakes throughout (as well as calling people cunts), it feels like he is attacking his critics by saying “Before my hiatus you said you were into my music, but over the past two years you’ve been talking shit. I’m back now so watch out. I know who you are…” Or maybe not. Either way there is a convoluted beauty to Serpent.

Loveridge could easily make a conventional album. It would be awesome and probably lead to a larger fanbase and the chance to play bigger venues. Instead, however, he crafts dense soundscapes full of intriguing melodies buried under layers of synths, feedback, and guttural vocals. After listening to Serpent, I didn’t realise how much I had missed Loveridge and his warped musical worldview. Whether the remaining releases of 2020 reach the peaks of Serpent will remain to be heard. But welcome back Matt. We’ve missed you.

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