Since post-punk morphed from an offshoot of new wave into something less bound by generation but more nebulous as a whole, artists have been utilizing the colder elements of the genre to expose the emptiness of consumerism and to push back against the bankrupt neon hues of success and progress. On the second EP from Night Cleaner, All the Saints guitarist and vocalist Matthew Lambert focuses these social queries into an analysis of sound and self. The name conjures visions of fluorescent hallways and patterned carpets in deserted office parks, but the isolation and introspective longing of Even lend themselves to his focused meditation. Though these six tracks channel the same anti-commercial desperation of ‘80s post-punk, Lambert digs further into the psyche of the individual, and as a result, Even reflects the endless motility of mind and body.
Lambert’s first foray as a solo artist came in the form of a more ambient project. His debut release, 2015’s A Sketch for Winter III: Greensleeves, was an emotionally resonant dreamscape, which, though hazy and narcotic, was also pastoral and intimate—a bucolic scene from another planet. Even is no less delicate, but here the textures take sharper forms. The urgency of the EP is new to Night Cleaner and nowhere is it more evident than on “Solids (No Tint).” The track rides a simple, grinding synth line to an unknown destination, but the insistence of the beat is confrontational and gripping. This immediacy is also evident in the less robotic bits of the EP. Indeed, the carnal thrum of “WDE” reflects the sensory experience that is key to the album: Throughout Even, what is known must be encountered personally.
Much as All the Saints are shoegaze by way of expression rather than intention, the diverse sounds of Night Cleaner are driven by process rather than objective. Geographic North releases are always extremely focused in scope if not sound, and Even is no different. Yet within this collection of densely curated post-punk, there’s a sprawling universe of individual palettes and tones. Lambert drew inspiration from a wide variety of sources, from DJ Screw to Depeche Mode. “On the surface, it definitely seems disparate, but to me it makes all kinds of sense,” he explains over email. “I just draw inspiration from the analog glaze and continuous pulsing flow of Screw tapes. Once I started writing more with the MPC and synths, I became even more drawn to groups like Solid Space, Depeche Mode, and especially Seventeen Seconds by the Cure. I love the way these guys balanced icy keys/synths, simple drum machine beats, and mix them with the melodic, psych-tinged guitar.” Though he makes the comparisons seem obvious, and the implementation effortless, the frigid textures of the EP are balanced by a sense of wonder which buoys the synth lines and prevents the harsher elements from dragging the record into the depths of self-conscious claustrophobia.
Lambert wrote most of Even in the seclusion of a home studio late in the evening, but just as critical to the writing process were a series of drives he took around East Point, College Park, and Decatur. Driving as a theme or even as part of the writing process isn’t novel to songwriting, but the device works especially well in the car-centric world of metro Atlanta. For Lambert, the insular environment of city streets at night is a palette for sounds and ideas to take shape internally. “As I’ve gotten older, I started finding beauty in the sprawling nature of this city,” he says. “Motion is a key element of creation for me. So often I take these demos and just drive and fine tune them in my head until I can get back to my setup and bang them out.” This focus on motion as a catalyst for creation permeates the entire record without seeming contrived, especially on “Privacy Light.” The woozy, slow-burning track transmits the decaying romance of the Jesus and Mary Chain in its pulsing beat before whining into the distance.
Throughout Even Lambert indulges his own creativity while deftly paying homage to his idols. In doing so, he has made a record which constantly changes its form. Though it is expansive as a whole, each track is narrowly focused. As a result, the sources of light and intimacy on Even may be distant, but the EP’s untethered exploration makes them feel reachable and therefore even more consequential.
Even is available now on limited-edition cassette and digital.