Boomkat Product Review:
On his debut album Half Mirror, Matthew O’Connell superimposes warm analog synths onto self-described “confessional folk”.
"Tracked at home in the mountains of North Carolina using a vintage tape delay, electric guitar, and a self-designed synthesizer named ‘Balsam,’ Half Mirror is at once a lonesome push-pull of electronics humanized by folk elements, and folk music made alien by electronic adornments. O’Connell’s own story is just as captivatingly segmented. While growing up on a farm in Palmyra, Indiana, he became obsessed with metal drumming and spent most of his free time practicing in the garage, occasionally recording on four-track tape machines with his brother Joe (Elephant Micah). Reflecting on those formative years, O’Connell says, “I think that period instilled two things in me: a long attention span, and the ability to work obsessively on something in solitude.” It’s these monastic inclinations that helped form the spirit of Half Mirror. While in college, his interest in math led him to participate in a six-month intensive study program in Budapest, Hungary. There, he continued writing song fragments on a borrowed guitar and fiddling with musical electronics at the Kitchen Budapest a collective of artists, theorists, and coders.
In 2011, his interest in electronics and engineering led him to Asheville, North Carolina, where he worked for Moog Music calibrating and building synthesizers, and testing vintage analog delay chips by day. At night he would spend his time building homemade synths and writing songs. It was here in Asheville that he began the bulk of the work on Half Mirror, imbuing his music with the qualities of his environment almost by necessity. O’Connell made a deliberate effort to keep the album's production sparse. His interest in restraint stems in part from his love of albums like Nearly God by Tricky and Ghost Tropic by Songs: Ohia, both of which feature uncomfortably bare vocals and uncanny production that commands the listener’s attention. Additional inspiration came from Mark Hollis' striking minimalism, and the freeform songwriting of Arthur Russell and John Martyn. Filtering the poetry of fractured, imperfect memories through a lush, yet sparse palette of sounds, Half Mirror evokes a profoundly moody sense of place: the fog heavy in the mountain peaks, the dew present on early morning walks, and the musky smell of rhododendrons in the air."