Houston multi-instrumentalist Matt Kidd, who writes pastoral, deeply felt compositions as Slow Meadow, returns with the new LP Costero. The 10-song effort is Kidd's second as Slow Meadow, arriving two years after his debut. Costero, Spanish for "coastal," is a spare and wistful collection of sketches for piano and string quartet – yet it's also immutably lush. This is largely due to the crater-deep wells of feeling Kidd draws from a small roster of players, but the composer's skill with programming embellishments also augurs a sense of spaciousness and wonder. Satie and Debussy alight on the mind as, say, "Ships Along the Harbor," "Borderland Sorrows," and "Lamellophone and the Gulf of Mexico" issue their felt, poignant tidings. One also hears in Kidd's soft focus motifs connections to contemporary minimalists such as Rachel's, Balmorhea, Goldmund, or Berlin's Nils Frahm.
Kidd's 2015 debut utilized a similar palette, except its mellifluous, textured sheen more readily evoked traditional guitar- and piano-centered ambient music. Stars of the Lid and Benoît Pioulard came to mind, as were gorgeous, bare bones scores by Coen Brothers-favorite Carter Burwell. Squint your eyes when listening to Costero, however, and you're just as likely to set aloft in a smoky, blue-souled, war-torn parlor of 19th-century vintage as you are anywhere in 21st century America. The record is far more "classic" in that sense, blurring our sense of era and location: The Romantics of Chopin's Paris would've liked Costero's tiny majesties as much as the heavy-minded aesthetes of today's self-serious experimental music scenes. Still, the record does have a loose geographic fixation. Kidd tracked a pristine string quartet at Sonic Ranch, a palatial Texas studio on the border of the Rio Grande and Mexico. Among others, the 2300-acre complex has also been utilized for records by Beach House, Swans, and Explosions in the Sky. And Costero's song titles – many of which are in Spanish, nodding to the influence of Kidd's bilingual Houston, his Puerto Rican grandfather, and the influence on Kidd of myriad Latin American musicians – evoke in both word and feeling images of the Southwest.
"Brazos Fantasmas," for instance, refers to the mighty Brazos River, an iconic body of water that slithers through east and west Texas and which has served a mythic function since early Spanish settlers coined it Rio de los Brazos de Dios, or "The River of the Arms of God." The final track, "Palo Valodor," refers to an ancient ritual that takes place at Mexico's Teotihuacan pyramids and other historic locations in Latin America. By chance, Kidd witnessed the Danza de los Voladores at the pyramids in 2016, and the twinkling flute sounds we hear at the end of Costero were sourced from that moment: A separate culture recalling a long gone civilization, yet mirroring a universal searching and celebration of the unknown. Then, In Kidd's native tongue, there's "Hurricane" and "Lamellophone and the Gulf of Mexico," evoking a retinue of coastal images and metaphors, as well as specific memories and methods of remembering in Kidd. As philosophical concerns, Costero, Slow Meadow, and Kidd's litany of singles often wrestle with disillusion, with breaking from distorted ways of perceiving that which one might have once held most dear.
These 10 songs – wordless, sighing, hopeful – will inevitably create their own meaning for listeners, outside that which stuck with Kidd over the past two years. They're meditations on the smear of inner feeling, the magnificent and tortured ways in which our bodies and minds interact in a dance that's both heartbreakingly limited and wondrously limitless. They are earthy, noiseless, focused gestures for a world that's suffocating from the lack of them. Costero was produced, arranged, and mixed by Matt Kidd, with additional production help from Hammock. Maxine Kuo and Joanna Becker played violin; Yvonne Smith played viola; and Aimee Norris played cello. (Cello on "Palo Volador" was performed by Katie Ferrell.) Jay Snider contributed drums to "Cielo Rojo." Costero was mastered by James Plotkin.