M357 (album link below) is a Washington, Pennsylvania-based one man band by Matt Ruschell – described as ambient psych-rock, and from the very first few seconds of their self-titled debut’s opening track “Black Pyramid of the Sun,” this description is clearly apt. Ambient sounds and plentiful guitar delay are nearly constant on the album, giving the music an ethereal, otherworldly quality that is just downright gorgeous.
However, this musical journey into other worlds can also be somewhat terrifying; the spacey drones throughout the album achieve that weird, awesome, Radiohead-like balance between pleasant dreams and nightmares. “Black Wolf” is the best example of this on the album, boasting doom-hearkening tribal percussion and static-y roars that eclipse the foreboding guitar lines hovering in the background. “Black Wolf,” as well as the other tracks here, are masterful examples of musical texture, expertly mixing a variety of disparate sounds into an engaging whole. Throughout, drones and hums alternate between background and foreground, displaying a level of recording/mixing quality that seems almost too good for a band’s first release. Another standout ambient track, “Gonners,” displays M357’s ability to create pure electronic ambiance without vocals or distinguishable guitar lines.
However, rather than merely focusing on the ambient qualities (which they could do awesomely if they so chose), they use them as a backdrop for their melancholy blues-rock musings. Beginning with the Bob Dylan-esque vocals of “Above and Below” that melt into the reverb-soaked blues guitar, Ruschell sings soft, darkly sleepy passages at different points in the album that bring the almost mystic quality of their music to even cooler, more personal heights. The incredibly beautiful guitar progressions carry the listener through familiar-sounding blues chords that are ripe with a smooth, echoey tone. Check out the steadily climbing chords of “Forever,” the peaceful guitar duet of “Summer Soul,” the dazzling yet warm guitar solo that closes out “#1 (To the Lost),” and the fuzzed-out Homme-evoking rumble of “Illumination” to get a sense of the sounds that M357 put at the forefront of their music. This last track is my personal favorite on the album, and it just drips with that golden, sludgy rock aesthetic that the band display with their first release.
All this to say, M357 successfully live up to their self-description, achieving beautiful yet chilling ambient psych-rock in this very professional-sounding album. The album is only about 36 minutes long, but the songs are at perfect lengths; no track outlives its welcome. This setup is ideal for the band’s first release, as it allows listeners to get a sense of the sound without being bored or overwhelmed. Evenly paced and deliciously dreary, M357 shows a man successfully balancing the familiar with the experimental, and I excitedly await future releases.