Matt Rouch & The Noise Upstairs Are Building Something Original
When someone decides to embark on a career in folk music, he or she better have something original to say. It’s a style of music that, along with genres like country and americana, is fairly strict musically in terms of common chord progressions and melodies. What sets certain acts apart is unique lyrical content and creative ways of gently stretching the genre’s musical boundaries. The Denver based group Matt Rouch & The Noise Upstairs worked their way toward that goal on their recent release The Beautiful and the Damned. The band employs a mostly conventional approach to songwriting on the album but they include engaging lyrics and show signs that they are cultivating an original sound that might soon break out of the folk music box.
Originally from Virginia, Rouch cut his teeth playing in several bands on the East coast before moving to the Rocky Mountains. It was at a Denver open mic night where he met songwriters Justin Catanzaro and Alex Fostar, who happened to play bass and violin, and The Noise Upstairs was formed.
The first song on The Beautiful and the Damned is the bright sounding “I’m No Angel,” which has somewhat introspective lyrics despite the bubbly music. Rouch comments on his tendencies in relationships, highlighted by the line in the chorus: “I’m no angel, but I’ve been trying.” There’s a theme of progress in the song, as if he is ready to be more serious in love. Later in the bridge, he writes, “I’ve held hearts of fragile glass and left the broken pieces in my path / but I’m all done with that.” So Rouch’s purposeful lyrics ultimately match up with the upbeat music and give it a depth that isn’t apparent in the music alone.
Another example of unassuming music with thoughtful lyrics comes on “The Man You See.” The song uses only Rouch’s voice and acoustic guitar. It’s another case where Rouch’s lyrics are what truly define the song. He sings about troubles in relationships, which has certainly been done before, but here he offers some interesting thoughts and analogies. He sings, “I guess it’s just easier to cut down a tree than getting down and pulling all the weeds / and sometimes the grass is greener, except when it’s not you who wants to leave.” Throughout the song, he plays the part of the weary romantic traveler with lines like: “Sometimes traveling the long road means knowing how to spot a dead end.” Although the song doesn’t necessarily offer any surprises, it’s a heartfelt tune that will resonate with many listeners.
One of the more musically original tracks on The Beautiful and the Damned is the quasi cowboy story “Riders from the Hillside.” The song’s composition in itself is not very creative, but the raw, driving style pops out against the rest of the album’s more gentle folky songs. The track points toward a direction of stylistic blending that could give Matt Rouch & The Noise Upstairs a more identifiable, original sound moving forward.
The band has the musical skills to take their sound to another level and really separate them from other music of similar style. The musicianship is strong on The Beautiful and the Damned and the three musicians clearly have a unified concept of their sound, evidenced by their cohesive playing. They appear ready to take the next step toward building a musical style that will be theirs alone.