Cyborg blues from the near future

It is no new feat to be a genre-bending indie artist in Portland. In fact, single-style bands have become a sort of endangered species in the music world.

It is no new feat to be a genre-bending indie artist in Portland. In fact, single-style bands have become a sort of endangered species in the music world. On Mattress’ new release, <i>Low Blows</i>, mastermind Rex Marshall continues his unapologetic mingling of old-school blues and electro-synthesizers, taking the idea of blending influences to the next level. The end result is something similar to what you would imagine prison blues to sound like in a futuristic society of robots with very deep voices.

Marshall, who also works at the Portland State library, has been producing interesting tunes under the pseudonym Mattress for over four years. In that time, his sound has maintained a common thread based on the noises he’s consistently drawn to.

“I like a lot of new wave, but what inspires me a lot is old blues music,” said Marshall. “Mixed with Kraftwerk or Suicide. I don’t want to be totally techno-dance-Depeche Mode-rave but I do want to blend that with poor man’s blues.”

He certainly succeeded in making an album with an original sound. Those familiar with his work would undoubtedly be able to pick a Mattress song out of a lineup. The music on Low Blows is dark in an unconventional way—far more quirky than creepy. He intelligibly masks hardship with eccentricity, exploiting his demons to keep them at bay.

“You find these themes that keep popping up in your life and try to get rid of them,” said Marshall. “That’s it. Then you sing the song 30 times in a month. It keeps it alive but makes it really annoying so you don’t want to talk about it anymore.”

Acknowledging those themes, with oddball panache to spare, has landed Mattress a mob of followers across the country. Touring with Portland’s Experimental Dental School, Mattress made its way from Sacramento to Brooklyn during the month of September. The tour had been a goal of Marshall’s for quite some time, allowing him an opportunity to interact with audiences outside the Portland area. His preferences while performing live are simple, but specific. 

“I like to have a few people there that will give me a reason to play really well,” said Marshall. “I’ve heard my songs way too many times. I’m not playing them for myself anymore.”

He does, however, continue to record new music regularly. Unlike his previous releases, <i>Low Blows</i> took a turn for the slightly more professional and time consuming, which is evident in the album’s superior sound quality and details. Staying true to his apocalyptic-with-a-twist nature, the new release allows you to hear all of the signature low-fi stylings of Mattress without a sub-par production quality getting in the way.

“It took me a while to make it,” admits Marshall. “It took like four months, that’s the longest I’ve ever taken. Usually I can write a song every day and just nail it out. I thought this one [through] and mixed it more carefully than I’ve ever done. I also had this one mastered. I kind of got more serious.”

Of course, not everything about Mattress is to be taken seriously. Marshall decided on the name of his project based on very little.

“I like it because it has two t’s and two s’s. And it’s comfortable but dirty, too.”

Shamelessly confined by nothing, listening to a Mattress song is like the audible equivalent to looking at a Bosch painting through rose colored glasses: haunting, layered, yet strangely solacing, just as Marshall intends.

“I like to write about struggle and survival and inspiration–I guess.”