[22 October 2008]
Here’s a self-imposed challenge: how to write about Matthew and the Arrogant Sea’s psyche pop oeuvre without referring to LSD. Instead, let’s stick to lysergic landmark comparisons—Pink Floyd’s Piper at the Gates of Dawn, the Beatles’ Sgt. Pepper and Neutral Milk Hotel’s In an Aeroplane Over the Sea. Family Family Family Meets the Magical Christian is by no means in the same league with these classics, but it is an impressive debut. It shares these records’ lucid dreamlike quality, its songs filled with bright colors, luminous melodies and bizarre but friendly imagery. Consider casio-paced, acoustic guitar’d “Pretty Purple Top Hat” which spins into its own universe with the opening salvo, “I was sitting on an orbit floating off in space/when your pretty purple top hat/hit me in the face.” From there it’s all glowing electro-keyboard flourishes and sighing vocals, surreal “hippo-sized balloons” floating by in the distance. Or take the foot-stomp-and-clap rhythmed “Mock Origami” with its swooning, much harmonized chorus of “And we all wave our hands goodbye.” It is not so much strange as an alternate reality, bounded by its own set of rules and sciences and oddly inviting. A willing suspension of disbelief, of logic, of linearity is required to enter into this world, but once you’re in, the water’s wonderfully warm. Not many young songwriters are constructing their own universes, right off the bat, so substance-assisted or not, let’s give songwriter Matthew Gray his due. This is a fantastic and phantasmagoric outing into alternate reality, and well worth checking even if you’re stone cold sober.