Matt Maltese – ‘madhouse’ EP review: Delicate heartworn pop that exudes vitality

From leaving a major label to going viral on TikTok, it’s been a strange couple of years for Matt Maltese, but home-brewed EP ‘madhouse’ comes as his most assured work yet

Matt Maltese has often made the most simple musings on love and heartache seem profoundly theatrical. Something of an outlier in the bustling South London scene he emerged from, the 23-year-old crooner has covered a lot of ground from behind his piano in the last few years.

His bells-and-whistles 2018 debut ‘Bad Contestant’ served up playful ’60s-indebted ballads with a dark humorous edge, while 2019’s home-produced follow-up ‘Krystal’ saw him take a more earnest, home-produced approach. If one thing’s been constant, it’s a compelling knack for putting his heart on the line while poking fun at life through lavish ballads.

Despite being consistently unwavering with his output, it’s been something of a weird journey for the British artist, who has now left his major label deal with Atlantic and more recently went viral on TikTok with three-year-old single ‘As The World Caves In’. Yet with his last few releases, it feels like Maltese is more comfortable in his skin than ever before.

The latest EP ‘madhouse’ affirms this sentiment, coming as another home-assembled effort, following on from his spontaneous lockdown track ‘Ballad Of A Pandemic’. “Can’t you tell me why I’m empty / welcome to the madhouse baby,” sings Maltese on the chipper title track which explores emotional connections to objects and places.

Opener ‘little person’ sets a light jaunty groove musically but there’s a daydream quality as he maps out plans with a future partner, “We’ll take a road trip / way out west / you’re the one / I like best.” The woozy and unhurried musicianship echoes the hopeful yet melancholic lyricism. Elsewhere ‘hi’ carries a similarly reflective beauty, softened with twee lines like, “I wanna be the French to your fries”.

Defining moment ‘Queen Bee’ ups the urgency with a colourful layered composition. Maltese’s honey-sweet vocal could easily be James Mercer on one of The Shins’ finer songs, while the track is offered extra zest with the help of Sorry’s Asha Lorenz who provides some backing vocals and a fuzzed-out guitar part from The Lemon Twigs’ Brian D’addario.

‘Sad Dream’ is a forlorn and impacting closer that sums up everything this artist is all about – beguiling throwback melodies with a twist of today through sharp lyricism. There’s a strong hint of Belle & Sebastian here as he sweetly sings, “I’m grateful you paid electricity / but it seems a small price now that you’ve destroyed me.”

Once again carrying the ability to make you cry and laugh in one fell swoop, this EP carries a clear sense of direction in the ever-hopeful quest for meaning and love. While some of Maltese’s more grand ideas of production have frayed since his debut album, being on a DIY path is clearly playing to his strengths as the songwriting here comes as some of his most assured work yet.

Details

  • Release date: August 7
  • Record label: Tonight Matthew/Nettwerk
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