Matthew Sweet: Modern Art


The visceral impact of Matthew Sweet’s rock and roll has placed him somewhat erroneously in the power pop genre when in fact, instead of grabbing the listener as do the hook-laden likes of his peer Tommy Keene, Sweet’s guitar-rock insinuates itself as you hear it.

The effect is deceptive throughout, but ultimately it cements Sweet’s expertise as a recording artist. Guitars unfurl lazily throughout “Oh Oldendaze,” occasionally curling around streams of vocal harmonies, generating a cumulative hold by the time the track is over. The sound is just as present but just as spacious on “Ivory Tower” as the agonized lead vocal leads to a sparring between bass guitar and electric leads. Long-time drummer Ric Menck is here on all but one cut and he unobtrusively maintains the movement of the music throughout.

Once an obvious aficionado of Neil Young and Crazy Horse’s molten music (and still to some degree loyal based on the motion of tracks such as “Ladyfingers”), Sweet now finds greater inspiration in the hard rock sonics of The Beatles circa 1966. Ambient effects begin many tracks and reappear within the mesh of electric and acoustic instruments that overflow within “She Walks the Night:” here the chiming twelve-string guitar plus massed voices conjures audio images of The Byrds at the apogee of their career.

With a dozen cuts comprising the forty-two plus minutes of this album, none meander but instead strictly follow their structure, as on “When Love Comes Falling.” The resolution of such tracks isn’t the rousing epiphany of pop but slower more dramatic climaxes such as the one that caps “A Little Death,” the likes of which works equally potently on the mind as well as the body.  Having already experimented with his chosen style to his heart’s content (see his earliest albums and Blue Sky on Mars), tracks including ”Late Nights with the Power Pop” and “Baltimore” exhibit the clarity of ideas honed to their essence.

The convoluted production process that turned analog masters into digital mixes only intensifies the physical sensation that arises from hearing Modern Art. The vividly cinematic quality of “My Ass is Grass,” among others, effectively renders the album’s title less tongue-in-cheek that Matthew Sweet may have intended it, especially when the title song, deftly and deliberately placed next to last, transforms it all into a unified statement, albeit a decidedly dreamlike one.

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