With only a wisp of notice beforehand, Mat Kerekes released Amber Park on Friday; the follow up to his 2019 album Ruby, with Luna & the Wild Blue Everything before it in 2016. While I embarked upon my Amber Park review not entirely sure what to expect of the EP, I was already familiar with the fact that Mat Kerekes’ creations come with a quality that’s tough to articulate. Whether via Citizen or in his solo work, there’s a mystique to his songs that captivates and leaves a unique mark upon the listener.
It’s the looming strings of “Amber Park” that warmly yet heartstring-tuggingly set the scene of the EP to come. Feeling like a sparkle of affection in friendly eyes, “Amber Park” gives the impression of an important place with deep and affectionate roots. Soaring like a wish on the wind, the delivery of the line “I hope you don’t forget to make it back home” is emotionally moving, leaning into a string and riff saturated moment. I admit that every one of the instances of this line sparked an outpouring of something from within me.
Even not knowing where or what the song refers to, “Amber Park”‘s loose and sparkly chords make room for reminiscing and heartfelt wonderings about people that you used to know. As a place, it feels like a warm centrepoint to all of these different lives that bonded there, before later stretching out into their own directions and distances away from it.
Considered broadly, the title track takes on a misty-eyed recognition of the importance of the simple and grounded things, with a “there’s no place like home” kind of fondness. Layered and interwoven at its end, “Amber Park” seems to be reinforced as being important enough in the protagonist’s timeline to potentially exist in the ‘whole life flashes before your eyes’ moment at the end of life.
Strong and dazzling with its synthy organ landscape, “20**”‘s strong heartbeat pace and semi-experimental nature is easily endearing. The background (is that piano?) hums that build and then abate are perfectly coupled with breathless vocal rhythms and question mark that feels like ‘What are we doing?’.
Juxtaposed to this is the more ethereal chorus, where loops with female vocals show an uncomfortable loss. I’m loving the digitised voices that fade in and out; seeming like something that can’t be grasped despite the steadiness of the song’s pace continuing on, just as life rolls onward, even without people we cared for.
At “20**”‘s second verse, the piano somehow manages to strike uncomfortably like an emotional upset, despite how buoyant the rest of it feels. Distortion and hums come like a buffer between remembering and feeling too much. Clearer then at the third verse, I read between the lines as there being a point of acceptance of things having changed, and how the passing of time has soothed a connection between two people.
Straight into “Low”, there’s a more ‘real’ and raw quality to it, with the simplicity of the acoustic guitar and Mat’s singing. The pared back nature of this adds nicely to the conversational style of lyrics. Piano adds a sweetness to the song, as does the expansion into chimes and strings, forming something that feels dreamy and adds a gentle cloud of romanticism. Dusky percussion features while two seem to try to work out the logistics of their connection and what their pairing means.
The single line of the chorus speaks like an overarching reassurance of keeping the one that they love afloat, not to mention the assurance that what they have is something fatefully important. I adore the metaphors about “your heart” and also how kindness oozes from this sweet song and its promise. Building and peaking, “Low” forms a celebration, showering down upon the two. The eclectic and dreamy music video just adds to this vibe. [I talked more about “Low” when it released as a single HERE]
I find “Merle” moving purely from its warm tone and the pleading quality of the guitar. This is added to when the track blossoms out into Mat singing and asking for reassurance. Feeling like an ode to its own sweet melody (if that makes sense?!), it’s a pleasure just to sit and let the song wash over you from its high peaks that float downward.
Adding to what’s already emotionally stirring, the rosy hues of the “You make it seem real enough, real enough for me” sections seem purposely crafted for floating in. I happily oblige, anchored only by headphones.
I can’t say I know what “Merle” is about specifically, and I honestly don’t really care. It creates such a gentle atmosphere of discovery and learning about someone, courtesy of the harmonies and softened urgency. To me, the song peaks when Mat repeats “Don’t you leave me hanging around for long”. Without any kind of sonic decoration surrounding this, the vulnerability in waiting is palpable. But again it welcomely dips into a pinkened hazy filtered view, and dreamy harmonies and vocal layers. However, once everything is silent, a ticking clock of waiting underlies it all.
When “A Moment” began, I swear I knew its sequence of chords from somewhere else, or at least recognised the same rhythm from another song’s intro. Sounding a little like “Young”, but with a Santana “Smooth”-esque guitar solo along with it, it’s a bit distracting for my brain and made it challenging to take the song on its own merits, at least at first. I find the loud tapping quality of the percussion is distracting too, so it’s kind of funny that the first line is about losing focus.
But as the song goes on, with the lyrical “maybe”s and the stream of ideas, I feel like the way my head is bouncing around while taking this song in is a good fit for it. Having an organ melody dance into the mix further adds to this busy brained experience.
It’s only when the song asks “So let’s take a moment” that it all seems to come together solidly, and the ideas are supported by vocal harmonies and an endearing melody that drifts out into something that’s refreshingly more magic than manic. While I don’t hate it, “A Moment” seems to be the biggest musical pot pourri cauldron of the EP, and if that was the intention (or even just playing around with different ideas), then Mat has nailed it.
“Someday I will lose you to the stars and the moon”
“Someday I Will Lose You” is such an exquisite end to the EP. It’s intensely delicate before reaching an explosive point. While the lyrics are beautiful, their ambiguity reminds me of how Mat seems to share so vulnerably and openly, while still keeping the truth close to his chest. I would absolutely love to interview the guy someday to talk specifically about this, as it’s been on my mind for years now.
So then going by feel instead of looking focusedly at the lyrics, the song and its heartbeat stare quietly out as witness to an experience. Talking about “lost thoughts” and featuring pensive instrumental interludes, “Someday I Will Lose You” isn’t in a rush, and it’s the inverse of the song before it, given that its sweet simplicity is in the atmosphere that it creates. It reminds me of the experience of being at a show and watching in silence, or tearing up to an impactful moment of the set. The appearance of strings adds to the emotional brutality of the song.
The ‘aftertaste’ of Amber Park surfaces as a bittersweet pang at the chest. It’s a fit for considering the inevitable eventual loss of everything great, whether it’s childhood parks, lovers, friends, or being a musician performing on stage. Nostalgia courses through the veins of Amber Park, as does a sense of trying to find ways for different pieces and different people to fit together.
A breeze of ‘This will probably all turn out just fine’ blows through too, enough that there’s opportunity for experimentation and heartwarming floatiness. It’s those floaty, dreamy moments of Amber Park that I loved the most, and I couldn’t tell you whether it was because they were objectively the best parts, or whether I sorely needed them after so many months in COVID-19 lockdown and that I appreciated the temporary escape into a sweeter world.
Even though his lyrics are not always directly clear in their meaning (to me, at least), with Amber Park, Mat demonstrates the art of taking the listener with him while he pours his own ‘lost thoughts’ into song. Grateful that these close-to-home and close-to-his-chest moments have been turned into sound to empathise with or to float with, I feel better for the experience of having heard them.
Cosy and familiar, Amber Park feels like listening to a friend share stories, and it does so with heartwarming openness and a range of sounds.
Short and sweet, Amber Park may require re-listens to get some memorable 'stickiness' for some of its songs.