It's been a little while since we've heard from the Halifax rocker, Matt Mays — five years, to be exact. However, as the title of his latest effort hints, Once Upon a Hell of a Time… chronicles his journey thus far, but also explores the intricacies of the journey itself.
For his sixth studio album, Mays travelled from the L.A. studio once owned by Elliott Smith all the way to Montreal's Breakglass Studios. With the help of co-producer Loel Campbell (Wintersleep), the Maritimer has created an encapsulation of his greatest work thus far — or in his words, "the record I've always wanted to make."
At times, the album slips deep in the '90s — most notably with "Sentimental Sins," on which the keyboards sound as if they're pouring out of an AM-FM radio in the sand, while Mays' characteristic guitar crashes down around it — but the 13-track LP oscillates between soft ballads and raucous rockers throughout. "Howl at the Night" features a unique layering of playful synths and cymbals, and enchanting female vocals. To complement it, "NYC Girls" comes charging in, a banger that evokes the immediate drive of Coyote's "Indio."
Mays explores cathartic emotions and pent-up anger here, hovering black clouds that threaten to ruin the party below; on "Drunken Angels," for example, Mays repeatedly belts out in desperation, "it's not your fault!"
Once Upon a Hell of a Time… is a refreshing album from a seasoned rock veteran who still has something to say, and who hasn't lost touch with his ability to churn out meaningful rock with heavy arrangements — and still has a hell of a time doing it. (Sonic)