Review: Matt Ebel – Cognitive Dissonance
Coffee Can save the World
By Earl Maldoun
Proof that a view fueled solely by caffeine, IPA’s, and jokes nobody gets is the path to riches, Matthew Ebel has forever sharpened his musical career in the world he knows best, hidden away within equal parts digital hotspots and cafe bars of Boston. The singer-songwriter is a somber pianist that is carried throughout the day by no small share of humor and nerd-love and who found his path to his fans through the interwebs of old.
Matthew Ebel is a singer-songwriter that originally made his name in Nashville, moving there after college to continue a career in Christian music before realizing he “didn’t want to make a career writing the same songs” and began creating rock and jazz-based music with the album Beer & Coffee soon after moving to Boston 7 years ago. He dealt with the universal challenge of a starving artist, driving a car sans gas by leveraging whatever digital medium granted him exposure to fans and crowds that he could. With each year’s passing, he’s pushed to include more aspects of the digital age to his work, preempting Patreon by a year with his own version of a subscription service for fans and streaming live shows before Twitch was a business model within online chat communities and from his eternally flooding basement.
Despite running from Nashville with no regrets, that country soul lives on in the undercurrents of his stylings, floating in between tidbits of jazz and rock as a cooler and quirky pop sound flows down through a sea of catchy lyrics and eddies of quiet reflection. You could call Matthew some parts impulsive with his sound; happy to include serious songs of religious contemplation alongside catchy nerd-life lamentations about being alone and creating Christmas albums from fictional jail.
His mindset is one akin to a young teen being granted his first iPhone ad wanting to try all of the digital expanse, but you could never say his heart wasn’t in the right place and that his dedication and creativity has brought every impulse into a full-fledged creation, effective through its energy.
The emotional context of the majority of his songs invokes specific events or people, normally killing a song in its infancy by those, “out of the loop” but surgically pulling the heart strings that matter most regardless, focusing on the more universal truths of discovering faith, love lost or societal growth that allows you to enjoy what should be a large collection of niche songs for niche groups that no one hears if created by so many less weathered artists.
His own words reflect a seemingly ages old mentality of his work, “light-hearted writing shares the stage this time with more serious fare…” when talking about his latest album, Cognitive Dissonance and in reference to pouring more into the mold of piano rock and its unique ability to balance jokes and sobs with equal abandon and equal flair. Mimicking life itself, the album prefers to forever teeter on a narrow platform of focus, scoping up ideas and tossing them in this bizarrely entertaining act of juggling
The title refers to the syndrome of a single person having conflicting or opposing beliefs inside their own head. Riding high, again and again, with the morning birds to plunge every listener into the dark, cool corner of last call without hesitation. It’s following a forlorn phantom down an eternal dirt road with “I Suppose” before getting kicked off the side into a ditch by the Lamborghini gunning by in, “Get Some”. Then the robot hobo offers a washrag for the dust and a promotional flyer for tonight’s show with “This Band Does Not Suck.”
Just like any proper Ben Folds album, the path winds as twisty as a mind living off beer and coffee often wanders and your listening is more an adventure through the thoughts of an individual, more caring at examining this world we live in and the often creative ways it can beat a person down.
It’s easy to see piano rock as nothing more than a handful of gimmicks, more in tune with dying ska bands and desperately aging tween bands than the spark of anything worthwhile. Exposing their love and hate under a variety of topics, your only hope being the skill and creative timbre of each particular songwriter and their songs to hold you.
And it’s even easier to call a piano rock artist goofy and pointless, with more jokes than a standup special tormented online and manufactured into a cheaply made CD. The soul of a singer, hidden behind pop-culture and dying trends, if it was ever there at all.
Cognitive Dissonance is nothing of the sort. While a lesser album rings the doorbell and leaves a package without needing a signature, Matthew Ebel offers a quickly dusted hand and some small measure of wisdom and comfort brought upon having to pull himself across a rocky desert that may not have an end, despite the snakes and sun and attrition of heat. He’s learned how to deal with life,and its nonsensical avarice for us, from his travels and poignantly offer his interpretation of the journey for us to listen to.