Umberto is an artist whose work is distinctly cinematic. Composer Matt Hill’s performances and delicate compositions taken together have the cumulative ability to surprise. Hill, whose Umberto moniker is an homage to director Umberto Lenzi, is an experienced and active film composer, most recently scoring the film All That We Destroy. In addition to film and commercial work, Umberto has released a number of lauded solo recordings. On Umberto’s Thrill Jockey debut Helpless Spectator, his haunting music is otherworldly and affecting alike, leaving the listener with an unsettling and profound air of mystery.
Umberto’s early recordings harken back to classic synth-driven sci-fi and horror soundtracks. Helpless Spectator uses synthesizers in an entirely different manner. Cold, looming monolith tones are now warm, softer pads that envelope the listener while guitar, cello, banjo and pedal steel add movement and light. Still, Hill unsettles with his arrangements and melodic phrasing. Unexpected shifts and turns in even the most tender movements of Helpless Spectator are inflected with a contemplative melancholy and fragility.
Umberto makes masterful use of varied textures throughout the album, blending supernatural effects and grounded instruments to create distinct atmospheres. Helpless Spectator is inquisitive and moving in equal measure, an album of somber elegance and delicate arrangements whose cumulative effect of unease is entirely unexpected.