Matthew As More (aka Matt Dake) spent years working on “Apocalypse Never,” nearly letting it fade away incomplete and unreleased. A self-hating perfectionist (but hey, what artist isn’t?) Dake has parlayed his raw mental state into a successful career as recording engineer, multi-instrumentalist, and co-owner of the excellent Iowa label Nova Labs. But despite its continuing testament to Dake’s inner darkness, “Apocalypse Never” is also a paean to Anglophilia—celebrating, above all, his beloved Beatles.
“Apocalypse Never” opens with the ubiquitous and archaic sound of dbx noise reduction beeps, followed by a snitch of “Magical Mystery Tour,” before gliding into the po(m)p majesty of the anthemic “Legalize LSD for the USA.” A red herring in many ways, considering its upbeat vibe, “LSD” does establish the connective tissue undergirding the album: a kind of hatefuck for ‘60s AM pop culture.
After this, the record expands it scope beyond traditional rock structure and production. There is a giving crunch in the compression, sounding perfectly “in the red” despite its digital source. Also, unlike most casualties of the “loudness war,” “Apocalypse Never” retains a wide dynamic range in the mastering. While “Maya Ingenue” may not veer too far sonically from another Dake-related project, “The Observer,” the recording is augmented with a demented hyper-rhythmic vocal delivery, something like Bone Thugs-n-Harmony spitting indie pop.
As the album continues, the polyrhythmic elements become both more insistent and increasingly scattered, with Dake’s vocals progressively gaining desperation. In spite of the sunny introduction, there is a fatalism—sometimes detached, sometimes impassioned—throughout the album, exemplified by the repeated, increasingly paranoid couplet “is anybody out there/is anybody home” in “Dream Is…” “Giving Up In Paradise” creates ambiguity by casting Dake’s dark thoughts within a boisterous musical context, suggesting there may be joy in his pain.
As the album continues, things get further out, with Dake going full-kitchen-sink and pulling out all the stops. “Matthew As Less” appears halfway through the disc, and functions as the centerpiece of this aural claustrophobia. After nearly two minutes spent skittering across the radio dial, vapid pop disintegrates into raw static, giving way to distorted keys and more rhythmic interpolation between the drums and voice, creating a background that implies DJ scratches and beatboxing. While disjointed on the surface, “Matthew As Less” functions as a mission statement and provides insight into his scorched psyche.
On “No Use for the Supermen,” Dake intones: “they’ve got no use for us”—a refrain that is as much a concession as an indictment. The album’s denouement, “The Twilight Age,” doubles down on ambiguity. After all this emotional anguish, I’m left wondering if there is light at the end of Dake’s tunnel or if it’s his final goodbye, as he repeats: “all the faces, all the people/they’re all so pleased to meet you/in the twilight age,” while the album fades into oblivion.
At the end, as the listener is left contemplating the gravity of the previous 40 minutes, a surprise bonus track (remember those?) turns everything on its head. Dake delivers a completely faithful and reverent performance of “Science Fiction Double Feature” from “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” which somehow provides all the hope needed to carry on in the face of the world “Apocalypse Never” disparages. The light at the end of Matthew As More’s tunnel may be a train, but until it hits, we have one hell of a soundtrack to the Apocalypse.