San Franciscan boundary-pusher Mickelson teams up with XTC bassist Colin Moulding – and comes up with something a bit special…
Release Date: Out Now
Label: Self Release
Well – we’re less that three weeks into a new year and already At The Barrier Towers is being deluged with great music, and the latest gem to land on this writer’s doormat is the powerful new single from our old friend Mickelson. Described as “…a comical take on those moments of completely losing your cool,” Only Grey Matter Boiling in My Head is, without doubt, one of the best tracks that you’ll hear this year.
Regular ATB visitors may well recall Mickelson, and our enthusiasm for his last album, Known to Be Unknown, which hit the racks last April to pretty widespread acclaim. For the benefit of the uninitiated, Mickelson is San Francisco-based singer/ songwriter/ artist/ producer Scott Mickelson. He’s been on the radar for almost ten years now having first built his reputation in and around the Bay Area before spreading his wings and building a still-growing following in Europe, particularly in Germany, The Netherlands and here in the UK. Mickleson’s music is often described as “a mix of Americana with an off-kilter post-punk edge.” That description was recently enhanced by New York-based online mag Beats Per Minute, who added the words “…and a lyrical self-deprecation that channels the wit and attitude of Elvis Costello.” Now THAT’S even more like it.
For this, his latest venture, he’s had the fantastically good fortune to team up with famed XTC bassist Colin Moulding who, as well as providing the unbelievably solid, wandering bassline that dominates Only Grey Matter…, has also done an excellent job of producing the track. Colin was introduced to Mickelson by his son, Lee, who, fortuitously for all, just happens to play drums in Mickelson’s touring band.
About Only Grey Matter…, Mickelson explains: “ Only Grey Matter Boiling in My Head is a humerous song dealing with anger management issues. This theme of self-deprecation shows up in my lyrics from time to time. I am also extremely honoured that Colin Moulding played bass. We had several chats about the song and he offered some great production ideas.” He goes on to elaborate vis-s-vis Colin’s involvement in the project: “I’d just written Only Grey Matter Boiling in My Head and thought it would be a good fit as there are some unusual twists and turns in the song and, to my mind, [it] reminded me of XTC. We recorded the basic tracks and Lee [Colin’s son, remember] sent it to Colin. I quickly received his bass track and was pretty blown away by it.”
And, yes, I can heartily concur that (i) Only Grey Matter… IS strongly reminiscent of XTC, particularly during the instrumental playout when you can close your eyes and imagine that Andy Partridge and Co are right there, in the room with you, and; (ii) Colin’s bassline is strong and powerful enough to blow away even the most cynical sceptic.
Colin’s production wisely focusses upon the twin assets of Mickelson’s dominant vocals and that magical bass – I won’t call it a mere bassline, it’s far to fluid and exploratory to merit such a throwaway term – but any spaces in the mix are adequately addressed by Jon Buckett’s keyboard licks and Lee’s drum fills, as well as Mickelson’s ever-present jangly guitar.
Only Grey Matter Boiling in My Head is a BIG ballad, but there’s no room for schmalz here. The song opens with Mickelson’s Beefheart-like clarion call “My life is a slamming screen door, Your life is a window of opportunity” before that bass cuts in and the sonic adventure begins. The songs rocks along nicely and manages to keep the listener deeply engaged, despite a notable absence of hooks or repetition. As soon as I’d listened to it, the first thing I did was play it again. And then again…
I have to say that, for a song with humourous intent, Mickelson’s lyrics are not for those of a timid disposition. Lines like “I was drowning in a sleepless dream/ I was wrestling with my rescuer”, ”I would rather play Russian roulette/ Than to ever forgive or forget” and the song’s refrain, “But it’s only grey matter boiling in my head/ Would you rather that I play dead instead” are definitely more like high drama than light entertainment, but the intensity of the lyrics is all part of the recipe that makes Only Grey Matter Boiling in My Head such a rewarding listening experience.
Anyone with a taste for a powerful, off-mainstream tune with lyrics that challenge and inform will love Only Grey Matter Boiling in My Head. If you classify yourself as one of those people, you should check it out. Now.
And if you can’t wait to hear this excellent song performed live, well now’s your chance. Mickelson will be touring the UK with his band during the second half of February, and tickets for any of the tour’s ten shows are available here.
Listen to Only Grey Matter Boiling in My Head here:
Categories: Single Review