Matt Maltese is on a quest to explain himself. On his debut effort, 2018’s ‘Bad Contestant’, the Anglo-Canadian artist delivered his brassy and witty – yet wholly self-aware – jazz-pop songs via an outsized character in order to accommodate his unease about sharing his hopes and fears with the world. Through the role of a unfailingly sardonic crooner, he’d found a way to be both flamboyant and self-deprecating, and that album saw his broad, swooping tenor serve as a rich deadpan as he sang of situationships and comedown-soothers gone wrong (‘Guilty’) or tentatively navigating an affair through a world-burning apocalypse (‘As The World Caves In’).
The latter track – which was penned shortly after Theresa May announced the UK Trident nuclear programme in 2016, and imagines a fictional romance between the former Prime Minister and Donald Trump – turned out to be one of last year’s most unexpected (and quite frankly, unexplainable) TikTok smashes. A crescendoing piano ballad that became a runaway hit years after it first entered the world, it has since surpassed 140 million Spotify streams, inspired Harry Potter fandom edits, and found an unlikely stan in LA rapper Doja Cat, who soon took to Instagram Live to host a singalong through some Maltese deep cuts. “We’re gonna nuke each other up boys/’Til old Satan stands impressed,” he sighs on the passionate and disillusioned pre-chorus.
This devilishly funny persona is precisely what made Maltese’s music so fascinating in the first place: he alchemised songs from retort and making fun of himself. “I’m a big believer in comedy being a way of looking at things,” he explained to NME in 2019. “But when you treat your life like a movie, it can be a mess.” So when his second album arrived later that year, it felt comparatively small and vulnerable to his first; ‘Krystal’ was a pared-down turn that saw Maltese begin to get out of his head and destroy the theatrics in order to be there for himself throughout a break-up.
Written as a form of escapism during last year’s first national lockdown, third full-length ‘Good Morning It’s Now Tomorrow’, is, in contrast, what Maltese has described as his “most hopeful work yet”. His journey from a louche, world-weary cynic to an artist centred on hard-won optimism certainly makes for a rapt listen: the knife-sharp snide commentary has slowly started to melt away in favour of grace and generosity. It can knock you off balance.
The world he now paints seems bigger, brighter, more sensitive and compassionate. His songs have grown out of the warrens of his pain, and instead have bloomed into joyous epiphanies: on the perky and wholesome ‘Shoe’ – a percussive ditty as comforting as your favourite pair of trainers – Maltese delights in the frissons of a new romance. His voice is warm and clear as he races to capture an emotion to prevent himself from curdling into the torturous self-examination of old: “I wanna walk around you/Like a child in a museum”, he sings giddily, before later floating away on a cloud of unabashed glee. “When you hold my hand, I could melt”.
Maltese’s humble mission is moved forward by his attempts to conjure up small victories out of the day-to-day. ‘Rat Race’ reframes the sometimes mind-numbing routine of the working week into an opportunity to develop into a new, more audacious person. The gorgeous and spacious ‘You Deserve An Oscar’ bathes in the universal: over muted drums and rising strings, Maltese congratulates a partner – and by extension, his listeners as a collective – for waking up every morning and carrying on, despite how difficult that can be.
There’s an effortless ease to the synth-dappled arrangements of ‘Good Morning It’s Now Tomorrow’. Despite this appealing lightness, Maltese still makes space to mock his own personal pain. “Can you cook the lover’s set menu for one person?”, he questions on ‘Lobster’, as the chords race endlessly upwards. It’s a rare callback to ‘Bad Contestant’’s method of burrowing into humour to avoid sincerity, but here, he provides an added, introspective touch that’s endearing, particularly on ‘Krakow’: “And I want what I can’t have/But I don’t want what I can/And that’s the recipe for being alone”. It’s never been easier to sympathise with Maltese’s self-loathing.
The most resonant moments remain the most simple and heartfelt; the vivid concept of ‘Outrun The Bear’ – which sees our narrator declare that he would offer himself up to a grizzly creature in order to save his lover – is admittedly silly on paper. But as Maltese sifts through his imagination to construct a new form of intimacy, the song translates to a celebration of the album’s overarching qualities – hope, release, and a desire to grow – all of which lead to a new beginning.
Release date: October 8
Release label: Nettwerk