Fear is a complex emotion. Aimed at a tangible target, such as spiders, heights, or a serial killer in a movie, it gives you a small adrenaline rush that can be exhilarating as it fades. Much worse is the vague, more indistinctly ominous feeling brought on by films such as Alejandro Amenábar’s Abre Los Ojos. Who or what can you reasonably blame when your sense of reality is destroyed? The lingering sensation of unexplained doom that hangs over an anxiety attack is worrisome simply because there’s no place to direct your fear. You end up terrified of everything, just in case that glass of spilled milk really is the only warning you’ll receive of the coming apocalypse.
Mat Sweet, a Brit from Southampton, knows the difference between sudden fright and truly being afraid, and it’s the latter that he works so skillfully for this self-titled debut from his Boduf Songs project. Sweet played and recorded all of the instruments here, and even when he stabs at moments of levity — which is rare — you end up unnerved. Letting plucked notes hang in the air just a little too long and leaving background noise on the tape, Sweet’s chilling arrangements and treble-heavy DIY production add up to a beautiful yet quietly menacing record.
With breathy, whispered vocals and finger-picked acoustic guitar dominating the soundtrack, the malaise that clouds the album is startling. The ubiquitous tape hiss lends the songs the immediacy of an invasion of privacy. The tension is so enveloping that the slight cymbals that pepper “Claimant Reclaimed” sound out of place and threatening — but that’s exactly what makes them work. His performance is simple but certainly not flawless, a fact he uses to great effect here; on the rare occasion he hits a stray note, it almost jumps you out of your chair.
The lyrics are so quiet and low in the mix that they’re often barely distinguishable, but words such as “oblivion” and “trembling” have no problem setting the mood. Boduf Songs savors the minimalism of Sweet’s sound and dwells on the darkness he finds there. When the sound of chirping birds fills the end of “Lost in Forests,” the relief it brings is about as welcome as the sunrise after a restless night that was supposed to be your last. This album may not be a sign of the coming apocalypse, but then again, maybe it is.