The romance of artistic collaboration is as potent and mysterious as the draw of sex. But pop music tends to obsess on the latter while keeping the former process in the background. "Nothing But The Silence," the title track from the T-Bone Burnett-produced debut album by the Nashville duo Striking Matches, reads as the love song of a dented heart at first, but multiple listens open up its meanings. The simmering frustration and continued longing for connection that its circular verses express certainly apply to any couple who's hit a rough patch. But those emotions also come during a creative impasse — say, in the kind of Nashville writer's room where Sarah Zimmermann and Justin Davis spend time.
As Striking Matches, Zimmermann and Davis are practically superheroes, shooting out guitar lines that light up their beautifully formed, emotional songs. The musical empathy that took them from the music class where they met into those writing rooms (where they produced work often featured in the TV show Nashville) and on to stages across the country is a rare thing. Less theatrically insular than their role models in The Civil Wars, but more intense than mainstream acts like Thompson Square, Zimmermann and Davis present Striking Matches as a constantly igniting musical workshop, where new ideas and rich harmonies build tension that goes beyond boring definitions of what's hot. What they do together beyond the music is irrelevant.
The lyric video for "Nothing But The Silence" tastefully captures what makes Striking Matches so alluring. In a spare, smokily lit rehearsal room, Zimmermann and Davis each struggle to light the fuse of their muse, never making eye contact. Vintage suitcases, locked tight, represent their ability to share thoughts. Eventually, a silent explosion signifies a breakthrough — this song seems like the result. It's a beautiful moment to which any creative person will relate. It's a romance of the brain waves that results in music of the heart.