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Matthew Sawyer and the Ghosts

How Snakes Eat

(Fire; US: 15 May 2010; UK: 24 May 2010)

Reverb-draped oddness

Matthew Sawyer takes a lo-fi approach to epic sound-scapes. Draped in reverb and sporting a thick British accent, his voice squawks in a fashion distinctly unfit for the widescreen, surround-sound compositions he’s attempting, but the musical accompaniment offers something larger. Strings and synths, rumbling bass lines and occasional guitar lines floating above it all. It’s a big, echoey sound, a sound that suggests rolling prairies, or maybe oceans, or, possibly, deserts.


The songs themselves are a mixed bag. Your mileage may vary, depending on how much you enjoy lyrics like “My mind was like a jumble sale / Waiting to set sail / For the whale.” Sawyer’s voice is occasionally grating, at times transcendent, sometimes in the same song. Opener “Mynah Bird’s Call” rolls along above a jogging bass line that lends irresistible momentum, while “Revenge of the Extra from Zulu” is as twee as it sounds. Other tunes have a certain playful lilt—“She, the Ferrytree”, “Caroline”, “Talking About a Whale Song”—but elsewhere Sawyer falls into guitar-strummer mode, which falls flat.


It’s hard to find a standout track here, which might be a positive; listeners who like one tune will probably enjoy the album as a whole. On the other hand, relatively little stands out. Sawyer’s voice is out of the ordinary, to be sure; what’s less certain is whether this is necessarily a good thing.

Rating:

DAVID MAINE is a novelist and essayist. His books include The Preservationist (2004), Fallen (2005), The Book of Samson (2006), Monster, 1959 (2008) and An Age of Madness (2012). He has contributed to The Washington Post, Publishers Weekly, Esquire.com and NPR.com, among other outlets. He is a lifelong music obsessive whose interests range from rock to folk to hip-hop to international to blues. He currently lives in western Massachusetts, where he works in human services. Catch up with his blog, The Party Never Stops, at davidmaine.blogspot.com, or become his buddy on Facebook (or Twitter or Google+ or whatever you prefer) to keep up with reviews and other developments.


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