Wednesday, April 23, 2008
Demos 2008 - Matthew Good
My brother (a fellow Matthew Good fan for life) recently uncovered internet chatter concerning a series of MG demos that were circulating the acclaimed Canadian artist’s website forum. After a frustrating search and the eventual help of an altruistic MG fan/stranger, we found ourselves in the fortunate possession of EIGHT brand new Matt Good demos. What was more exciting, as we pressed play, is how much labour has been clearly put forward; these “demos” all feature full-band arrangements, often including a string section and some occasional production quirks. Although I feel like I may have peeked at my Christmas bounty well before they’re waiting beneath the tree, I still recommend seeking out these hard-to-find previews of what Matthew Good’s fourth solo album could potentially sound like.
The Boy Who Could Explode, I recall, was the first song I immediately took to; its subtle strings and ambience mark it as more polished than the majority of these demos. Even more commanding is Good’s vocals, which begin in a gruff and patient stream-of-conscious before taking off in a heavy, mid-tempo chorus. For those who haven’t heard it, I would place this song in the Avalanche-section of the MG Quality Barometer (meaning it’s very good); like ‘Near Fantastica’, it keeps to its tempo religiously while sharing a orchestral arrangement similar to ‘Weapon’. At the 4:30 mark, the chorus slows down and military-style drumming echoes under a gorgeous guitar riff as Good laments “What are you thinking?”. This four-word repetition never gets old, as Matt multi-tracks his vocals with the sneer that made old MGB classics so edgy, while near the song’s climax (6:15), Matt harmonizes several layers over that frustrated question, bringing it into a beautiful, if uncertain, close.
If Hospital Music is any indication (where the two shortest songs - beyond the two interlude tracks - are the covers), Good’s growing disdain for hit singles has made him a better songwriter. Here, we find several songs breaching the five minute mark and three reaching into eight minute territory; a running-length Matt would’ve marveled at as recently as last year. Empty’s Theme Park, at nearly nine minutes, is both the most elaborate and the most fist-pump worthy. I get the impression that Matt is still working the kinks out of this one: how he wants to sing it and how many verses he’ll iron out. What I hope is that he gives some thought to the drumming, which besides being as exciting as a drum-machine, is nearly identical to The Boy Who Could Explode. And perhaps it is a drum-machine… but it sure sounds enough like long-time MG percussionist Pat Steward. C’mon, work some dynamics in there!
Volcanoes is another mid-tempo rock-out that, despite resting too hard on its power-chords, builds into an impressive release. Unfortunately, this release is a flash in the pan when nearly half the track’s running-time is spent in the opening and closing orchestral atmospherics. This demo, more than any other, feels unfinished or stitched together from spare parts.
Fought to Fight It finds Good stepping hesitantly out of his comfort space with 80s Atari effects and Replacements’ guitar solos. It isn’t an overwhelming success worth changing his sound for but Good incorporates it well to a decent classic-rock influenced chorus. It’s scrappy and unlike any of his previous work, but would also be better judged when cleaned up in the studio. Right now, it merely sounds promising.
“Come on over, you’ll regret it,” Matt warns in the opening of Us Remains Impossible, and his casual devil-may-care tone fits the slacker, Pavement-style riff well. It’s so raw and dirty that I almost wince when the string section swells in to dull its edge. While the chorus isn’t poetry and Good’s multi-tracked vocals sound desperate, he has put some serious work into his harmonizing at the break between chorus and next verse, where we witness a street choir of Matt Goods, angelic and pitch-perfect. Although it is sonically closest to White Light Rock and Roll Review, Us Remains Impossible is another hard-to-pinpoint MG demo.
There might be a good song hiding in Bad Pennies but this demo isn’t the place to find it. The bass-line is anticipatory and the guitar riff is benign enough, but they are drowned out by too-loud and too many vocal layers. Beyond that, the lyrics feel improvised and the chorus is too one-dimensional for Good to be able to pass with. There are rare Matthew Good B-sides floating around that are infinitely better than this.
After the predominantly gloomy Hospital Music highlighted Good’s ability to wrap us tight in cotton-soft depression, I’m surprisingly excited to report that only one song here sports the melancholy of that great album. On Nights Like Tonight has the momentum of ‘Avalanche’ but the lyrical innocence of his pre-MGB demo days. As Good coos “Just sit tight. I’ll find a way to get to you,” after some emotional percussion and an orchestral swell (yeah, another!), I get chills in the same way the close of ‘A Single Explosion’ gets me every time.
I’ve saved maybe the best for last with Vancouver National Anthem, a pulse-pounding anthem that features a guitar riff that won’t be easily shaken from your ears and Good’s most impassioned vocals since, well, Hospital Music anyway. Good has long blogged about the inhumane way Vancouver’s homeless population is treated by city officials, and with the Olympic tents now pitched, poverty issues are being further shoved under the rug. Since Good lives in one of these less-prosperous neighbourhoods and has long been witness to the marginalization of the homeless, Vancouver National Anthem might be Good’s on-the-record response.