Album Review: Umberto – Confrontations

[Not Not Fun; 2013]

I’ll cut to the chase here: if you’ve enjoyed Matt Hill’s previous work as Umberto, then you’ll like Confrontations, his latest album for Not Not Fun. If, on the other hand, you’ve tired of his imagined-soundtrack atmospheres, then this will just seem like a rehash of an already-rehashed sound.

The production value is slightly cleaner this time around, a little less dusty-box-of-70s-horror-movie-VHS-tapes and a little more I-like-playing-with-synths-and-minor-chords. There are some subtle differences from his earlier albums; the drums on “Initial Revelation” resound with an unprecedented (for Hill) texture, while the synth lines on opener “Night Fantasy” inch closer to the 80s-inspired stuff Hill explored on his Freeze! 7” back in 2011, also for Not Not Fun. But the computerized choirs and high-pitched synth strings that eventually dominate “Initial Revelation” make it clear that Umberto is still indebted to the Italo disco/prog work of 70s synthsmiths like Goblin and Giorgio Moroder. The choir grows more ominous on the title track, but the beat remains pretty steady and unobtrusive.

Still, there’s something viscerally satisfying about moments like when the analog equipment rises to the fore at the 2:00 mark of “Confrontation.” Whether that’s the result of Hill’s ability to toy with mood and tension or simply a validation of almost subconscious nostalgic impulses is largely up to how much stock you place in Hill’s originality. He’s clearly a Carpenter fanboy—and who isn’t, really?—but how much of this album is him paying honest tribute to his cinematic idols as opposed to nerdgasming with a Minimoog onto a slab of vinyl?

For all its spookiness, Confrontations is ultimately a pleasant listen that goes down easy and doesn’t leave much of a impression. If I were introducing someone to Umberto’s music, I’d still play them From The Grave or Prophecy of the Black Widow (from 2009 and 2010, respectively). Four years later, Hill seems to be surfing the same wave, which I guess is fine but still strikes me as a bit lazy. That’s not to say Hill doesn’t put a lot of work into his compositions—I’m sure he does—but after he seemed to test out different waters on Freeze! and the droning ambiance of Welcome to the Chill Zone, the latter of which was more gleefully Daniel Lopatin than Dario Argento, it’s a bit disappointing to hear him retread those same midnight-slasher-flick vibes here on Confrontations. Matt Hill is very good at what he does, and I guess I wish he’d stop trying to prove it and instead flex his creative muscle a little more. In the meantime, however, this definitely isn’t a bad release, and fans of Steve Moore’s glissading keys will still find plenty to appreciate this time around. But you know what they say: the sequel’s rarely as good as the original, and the music of Matt Hill is no exception.