Matt Douglas & Sam Kassirer: En Masse


[Self-released; May 22]

Is it just me or is the sax “back” for like the thousandth time?

All the cool local bands seem to have them lately: Sylvan Esso tapped Adam Schatz to wail on their WITH tour. Wye Oak has one in-house in Andy Stack. And The Mountain Goats picked one up full-time a few years ago in Matt Douglas, who also has his own jazz band, The Hot at Nights.

At the brink of oversaxuration, Douglas feints with En Masse, a sax-free EP that shows off his own singer-songwriting and his rich collaboration with keyboardist and producer Sam Kassirer. A warm bath of indie rock vestiges and hushed, sweeping electronic vistas converge into vivid forms on the wide horizon of Douglas’s voice, and it’s all surprisingly great for someone who’s been ambivalent about being a “frontman.” 

En Masse comes out Friday, May 22, but we’re premiering “Black Smokestack” today. It’s a fine introduction to the EP’s vibrantly tailored sound world. Douglas’s guitar is part of a tapestry with all sorts of small, unexpected patches and brocades, stitched up with palpitating programmed rhythms and live drums by Liam Hurley. Eerie gaps, wayward scraps of instrumentation, and electronic murmurs play over its surface, in the prismatic style of latter-day Bon Iver, and the light source is Douglas’s singing, which is temperate and sunny.

The rest of the songs are just as striking. On “Harlequin,” a lonesome synthesizer and a simple electric guitar riff gather mass and force with the tranquility of an faraway but oncoming meteor. “Plexiglass Coffin” is a sort of agile electro-pop sea shanty, while “Don’t Be Surprised” scores the album’s most emotive vocal performance and its most abstract sound collage at once.

But all the electronic scrimshaw is there to accentuate the soundness of the songs, not to compensate for its absence. The result is an singalong record where putting on headphones is like putting on 3-D glasses, when stereo space springs up in intricate sculptures. Check for it Friday, and enjoy “Black Smokestack” in the meantime:    

Contact arts and culture editor Brian Howe at

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