Mark Matos & Os Beaches is the brainchild of songwriter/poet Mark Matos, and the latest chapter in this wandering artist's travels. After growing up in the Bay Area and central California in a musical Portuguese-American family, Matos took to the road, eventually landing in Tuscon, where he released a couple of albums of Americana-influenced rock under the name Campo Bravo. One night, in the middle of a powerful acid trip, the traveling bug returned, and Matos disbanded that group and headed to San Francisco. With his latest band, Matos has settled in with some talented local musicians and released an engaging debut album of heartfelt country rock. Words of the Knife originally came out late last year on Porto Franco Records. It's now out on vinyl as Matos and his band kick off a national tour.
Words of the Knife is an album of many moods. It opens with "Hired Hand," a wistful road-ready jam that has been embedded in my subconscious since I first heard it last year. There are some bouncier tempos early on, but the group eventually settles into a more pensive mood, colored by the sung-in-Portuguese "Palavras de Faca," and similarly downtempo psych-pop nuggets like "Hold On Tight" and "I Come Broken." Os Beaches have something of a forlorn twang, which complements the earnest, heartbreaking quality to Matos's voice. His subject matter, however, isn't traditional country fodder, instead mixing nature- and people-driven poetic fragments joined in a unique mysticism.
Matos espouses a philosophy of "Acid Gospel," which his web biography characterizes as, "a branch of Anarcho-Mystic-Discordianism that believes in the use of the Sacred Sacrament of Psychedelics as the primary tool on the golden road of human and social evolution." While psychedelic-inspired music can be bogged down in overtly-druggy meanderings, Matos channels a powerful transformative element out of the psychedelia, turning the fractured images of the ten-minute "Warrior And The Thief" into a moving message of empowerment: "Raise your sword, raise your fist...Rise, rise, rise, rise! Cast your fears away!"
As spiritually uplifting as this perspective might be, there's a certain vulnerability to it as well. As Matos's web site describes: "We are small but we are so big...Be fearless in our searching, even when it gets scary...Embrace 'I don't know,' step into the mystery...Pry your heart open with a crowbar, magical and golden. This is the Acid Gospel." That vulnerable feeling is borne out musically too. The album is awash in instrumental passages somberly coated in Matos's organ and Tom Heyman's (Court & Spark) pedal steel, and has some moving vocal harmonies provided by Kacey Johansing.
Ultimately, Words of the Knife mixes offbeat mysticism, psychedelic meanderings, and earthy country soul, guided by the steady hand of a gifted and charismatic songwriter. Mark Matos & Os Beaches have been in the studio recently working on a follow-up album. I'm looking forward to seeing where the psychedelic journey takes them next.