In a short space of time, Matt Maltese has positioned himself as one of the most exciting emerging British songwriters in years. The 21-year-old’s stunning releases have ranged in tone from jaunty and upbeat to downright morbid; appropriately, ‘Bad Contestant’ is a stunning debut with two very opposing personalities.
Think Father John Misty - but beardless and metropolitan - and you’re on your way to getting Matt’s witty lyrics, the focal point throughout. He muses about romance and sadness, often mixing the two, but where others might wallow in their misfortune, he gives every anecdote an ironic spin, soaring gracefully away from ‘gruff hipster on an acoustic’ territory and into the realm of indie icons; the essence of Jarvis is detectable in his dry, pithy lines. At times he’s heartfelt, longing for the partner that god put “so far away” on ‘Greatest Comedian’. Elsewhere, less so; “I can always passively aggressively put you in a song”, he quips on ‘Sweet 16’.
Sonically, ‘Bad Contestant’ revels in kitschy splendour, partially down to Jonathan Rado of Foxygen, who brings a Californian warmth to an otherwise overcast collection of songs on production duties, his touch most obvious on the title track’s warm organ / guitar combo.
Shrouded behind the sultry dress-up are glimmers of chart pop potential; the earworms of ‘Like A Fish’ and ‘Misery’ hint that Matt could make some IRL indie bangers à la Alex Turner if he fancied. However, this album does equally well with its subtle, unexpected nuances, the sorrowful ending to the otherwise jaunty ‘Sweet 16’ and the chirpy backing vocals on ‘Nightclub Love’ that sound like they’re sung by miniature shoulder-perched versions of himself, to name a couple. When he really lets rip, Matt Maltese can do grand and orchestral too, but for the most part this enigmatic young voice needs only a simple piano accompaniment to deliver dazzling, idiosyncratic brilliance.