Off the heels of his 2021 debut album Long Division, solo artist and multi-instrumentalist Matt Novaria, who goes by his artist name, Doc Rhombus, released his second album, Retroactions, on September 8th.
The collection of songs tell a contemporary story of pandemic malaise, frustration with self and society, and lack of control over past, present, and future.
Written, recorded, and produced entirely by the self-taught musician, Retroactions finds its footing on groove-centric rhythms and bass lines, textured guitars and synths, and layered vocal arrangements.
Matt moved to Minneapolis in April of 2020 amidst rising COVID rates and intensifying political turmoil.
He turned to music as a primary mode of expression, employing new songwriting and production techniques to cope with mental health issues and make sense of what’s happening in our country.
Every note, harmony, layer, beat, and sound on Retroactions nine tracks is a direct extension of this artistic process, channeled during late-night home studio sessions between the summer of 2020 and spring of 2022.
What are some of Matt’s musical influences, might you ask? An array of alternative, indie bands such as Beck, Radiohead, MGMT, Mac Demarco, Sleeping Jesus, and MorMor to name a few.
“The first music I listened to as a kid was classic rock, Motown, “oldies,” Michael Jackson, and 80s R&B.” This sound continues to shape Matt’s music, especially when it comes to groove and melody.
“I remember listening to Chaka Khan’s “Through the Fire” repeatedly from a cassette player through my dad’s headphones when I was 4 and struggling to hold back tears because it was so moving!
Maybe it was because of this early exposure to and passion for music, but music is constantly on my mind and playing through my head– real songs and songs yet to be recorded.”
When asked where Matt gets his inspiration for creating his music, he said “I’ll grab the guitar and go with a spontaneous flow of chords and vocal melodies until something feels right.
Then I usually record bass and percussion, program drums, and slowly build the melodic and spatial elements of the song around that foundation . Generally, it’s only after this that lyrical inspiration happens. With my first album, that inspiration was societal division.
With “Retroactions,” that inspiration is more about personal challenges, guilt, and time.”
Matt also mixed the nine-song album, which, as any recording musician knows, is far from an easy accomplishment.
Matt learned the basics of mixing from watching YouTube videos, bouncing ideas off of friends and other DIY producers on Twitter, and reading interviews of artists like Kevin Parker/Tame Impala who solo-produced and mixed “Currents.”
He spent countless hours listening to his mixes and comparing them to artists he wanted to sound like.
“You don’t really hear a song for the first time until you’re mixing– picking apart all of its pieces; thinning, stretching, enhancing them; figuring out how they all fit together in a way that makes sense given the song’s purpose. That’s very exciting and motivating to me.”
Matt mentioned Greg Reierson, his mastering engineer who worked on Retroactions, and his 2021 album, has been extremely helpful with tips about mixing as well.
The first track on the album, “All My Friends,” string pads and plucking guitars set the mood as dreamy vocals swim atop the groove.
The harmonizing chorus vocals give off a dreamy psychedelic feel. Just before my mind falls into a trance, a warm, bluesy guitar solo is perks my ears– a riff John Mayer would certainly tip his hat to.
“Dangerous Mood” begins. This track makes me think I should be stepping into an elevator with a martini in my hand, headed up to a rooftop dinner party. But instead, I’m sitting on my bed in my room, feeling underdressed.
The album holds a fitting sonic consistency within the musical elements and vocal effects. Matt’s vocal range isn’t broad by any means. He knows the keys he sounds best in and doubles down.
“Hypnotized” has a nice four-on-the-floor dance beat. Matt experiments with adding and removing musical elements in unpredicting moments, which you would think may result in a messy or amateur-sounding composition, but that isn’t the case here.
“Alive Now” is a tranquil tune with Matt’s signature synth layers dancing across the audio canvas.
The intro to “Stargazing” causes me to be a bit distracted by what sounds like an out-of-pocket drummer. I can only imagine this is an intentional creative decision made by Matt.
Piano, synths and guitar join together for a nice relaxing jam as Matt delivers another catchy vocal melody– the highest we’ve heard Matt sing on the album. More falsetto, please, Matt!
I enjoy Matt’s creative mind and talent showcased on this record. He has an extraordinary ability to blend several sounds together in the mix, allowing the listener not just to hear his music but feel surrounded by his art.
A big goal of Matt’s is to have his music placed in TV or film. “Eventually, I want to produce and write for/with other artists and hopefully form a band to play the great venues in Minnesota.”