More than once during his band’s decade-and-a-half (!) run, Outrageous Cherry frontman Matthew Smith has tipped off his mood via his album titles (Our Love Will Change the World, yes; The Book of Spectral Projections, not so much). 2008 found him in fine fettle, if not always peak form, on Universal Malcontents—to wit, the crankypants “It’s Not Rock ‘n’ Roll (And I Don’t Like It)”. Now the gang is back and in a more philosophical mood on Seemingly Solid Reality, mixing their usual blend of psych-rock, garage and pop with, uh, solid results.
Using the album-title-as-thesis-statement theory, Smith and company – who are standing on shifting sand on the album jacket, fer cryin’ out loud – spend Side A investigating the dual nature of one’s interior life. It’s a move right in this lysergic band’s wheelhouse. It’s easy to feel the drugged-out narrator of the clomping “Unbalanced In The City” try to keep it together while thoughts like “we were extras in a movie without film” keep bubbling up inside his brain (the tune feels a little like the kid brother of Wilco’s “Handshake Drugs”). There’s more navel-gazing on “Self-Made Monster”, whose fuzzed-out riff and power-pop leanings belie uncomfortable truths about life in these 21st century United States (as in… “You’re a self-made monster”). The band closes out Side A by exemplifying the album title’s notion with “The Happy Hologram”, a trippy psych number where Smith fractures reality by delaying his own backing vocals a beat, giving the song a spooky, disjointed feel.
Reality’s back half loses some of the record’s sharp focus, though not in the fracturing-hologram sense, when Smith turns his view to the world at-large. The folk-psych “Nothing’s Changed” feels more like a statement of fact than a lamentation (though there’s no arguing with Smith when he sighs, “Sometimes it’s hard to be who you are”). Meanwhile, “Unamerican Girls” marries a great title and a sprightly beat to an unclear concept, leaving behind a toe-tapping muddle. Somehow the titular ladies “make magazines worship their instinct for style” and “make governments tap your telephone line”. Fortunately, “Forces of Evil” nails the duality-of-the-external-world vibe. His voice dripping with cynicism over a fuzzed-out guitar, Smith notes that “Forces of evil / politicians agree / are useful sometimes / to erase history”. While those forces may be unseen, they won’t be leaving our reality anytime soon, especially seeing how easily and effectively they are wielded as weapons… But you knew that already. Sigh.
Smith gets a lot of mileage out of a limited sonic palette, but Reality fits in with the late-period Outrageous Cherry aesthetic. (I do miss the horns that colored Our Love Will Change the World, though.) It feels sharper than the rant-y Malcontents. Despite, or maybe because of, all of Reality’s analysis, there are no answers, though the key may lie in the album closer “The Unimportant Things”: “The unimportant things stretch from nowhere to never.” What you see and what you don’t see are all there for a reason.
- Multiple songs MySpace