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Matt Pryor

Confidence Man

(Vagrant; US: 29 Jul 2008; UK: Available as import)

Matt Pryor has moved a good distance away from his years with the Get-Up Kids. The albums he records with the New Amsterdams are the quieter, more brooding side of the Get-Up Kids’ irrepressible emoting. And now, with his new solo album, Confidence Man, he’s turned the volume down even more, and gives us his most reserved vocals to date.


And while it was nice to see him step away from the emo-pop and into something a little more grown-up, Confidence Man goes way past sounding tempered and becomes, quickly, a dull collection of pop songs that pose as folk songs.  The acoustic bounce, the use of banjo, Pryor’s ever-confession lyrics, all hint at a folk inspiration.  But the melodies, and Pryor’s delivery, are still pure pop. And if Pryor could embrace that, it might be fine.


“A Totally New Year”, with its understated electric guitar and bass bracing Pryor’s acoustic strumming and vocals, shows us what Confidence Man could have been.  The song melds all its parts nicely into a pleasant glide, and there is just enough life and hope in Pryor’s voice to prepare us for an album where he refrains from the whining that mars some of his records.


But from there, there is little to talk about on the record. Pryor settles into tired, half-hearted vocals, and a bunch of acoustic numbers that, both lyrically and melodically, fail to distinguish themselves from one another. The broken relationship story of “Loralai” comes off as rushed and, built around details like a stolen car, sort of empty. “I’m Sorry Stephen” may be a earnest attempt at apology, but considering how little energy he puts into the song—and up against his more accusatory songs, like “Who Do You Think You Are”, where he is always more strident—I’m not sure Stephen will take much consolation in the track.


And with the inclusion of a few strong songs—like the full-band energy of the title track, where Pryor dips into his old school shriek without overdoing it, and the equally catchy “Still, There’s a Light”—one wonders why Pryor didn’t cut a number of tracks and expand on his better ideas. With 15 tracks, most of which cut out around the two-minute mark, the entire album feels rushed and unfocused. And with so many tracks, Pryor has too many opportunities to give us songs like the gooey “I Wouldn’t Change a Thing” or “Who Do You Think You Are”, where he has been vaguely wronged (again). And by the time he gets to the pretentiously titled “On How Our Paths Differ” where he congratulates himself on being different, the charm he shows on the better tracks here is completely wiped out.


With the success he’s had on some of the New Amsterdams’ records, it’s hard to figure the reasons behind making Confidence Man, considering none of these songs are given the time they need, and most feel like they could use more instrumentation—the kind of instrumentation Pryor’s band could give him. Instead, the album comes off as long on songs and short on ideas. Sure, he didn’t have a perfect record before this album, but Matt Pryor has shown us enough before for us to know that he’s better than this.

Rating:

Matthew Fiander is a music critic for PopMatters and Prefix Magazine. He also writes fiction and his work has appeared in The Yalobusha Review. He received his M.F.A. in Creative Writing from UNC-Greensboro and currently teaches writing and literature at High Point University in High Point, NC. You can follow him on Twitter at @mattfiander.


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