Publicity photo via Bandcamp

The Suitcase Junket Pushes for a Bigger Audience with ‘Mean Dog, Trampoline’

Mean Dog, Trampoline is a thoroughly enjoyable album that highlights Matthew Lorenz's skills as a songwriter. Having Steve Berlin along as a producer certainly helps bring out more color in the Suitcase Junket's music.

Mean Dog, Trampoline
The Suitcase Junket
Signature Sounds
5 April 2019

Since its inception, the Suitcase Junket has been largely a one-man-band project of Matthew Lorenz. Lorenz started by literally picking items out of the garbage and repurposing them as instruments. His set up has included a trashed guitar, a suitcase as a seat and bass drum, an old tiny keyboard, and all sorts of other things to approximate the percussion sounds of a drumset. That hasn’t changed on Mean Dog, Trampoline, but for the first time he’s working with an outside producer. Steve Berlin, the saxophone player for Los Lobos and an experienced hand behind the boards, helps make the Suitcase Junket’s sound just a touch more accessible this time out.

Lorenz has often split his albums between fuzzed-out blues tracks and more melodic pop-oriented songs and that remains the case on Mean Dog, Trampoline. But Berlin has helped shift the balance more in favor of the catchy, with the bluesy bits functioning more like a gritty spice on this record. This is apparent from the album’s first three songs. “High Beams” gives Lorenz the chance to belt out a melody right out of the gate. A kick drum and hi-hat rhythm and catchy guitar chords provide a simple bed for Lorenz’s vocals and lyrics, which are bittersweet earworms. Backing vocals in the chorus make the refrain, “put on your high beams” that much more catchy.

“Heart of a Dog” comes next, all low register fuzz guitar and jangling junkyard percussion from Lorenz’s “pile” of repurposed materials. It’s slow, it’s chunky, and Lorenz pushes the drawl in his voice. The instrumental sections are intentionally messy collages of sound, with multiple guitar tones, keyboards, and even Lorenz’s Mongolian throat-singing technique adding to the stew. But Lorenz immediately follows this up with the fun and easygoing “Everything I Like”, which opens with the chorus “Everything I like / Happens at night” and bops along from there. The song includes a downright playful reference, where Lorenz sings, “Everybody’s talking ’bout some new sound / Funny, but it’s still rock and roll to me.” Then, just as you’re realizing that this is a direct ripoff of a famous Billy Joel lyric, he follows it up with “And I spent all my money on a brand new pair of speakers / So I stole that old Billy Joel CD.”

The intriguing title of the album comes from the song “Scattered Notes From a First-Time Home Buyer’s Workshop”. This track’s lyrics come directly from what it says. Lorenz discovered completely incoherent notes he took years ago at a home buying workshop and repurposed them, like his instruments, into a song. So this quickly rolling folk song has lines like, “Invest in yourself”, “Danger, sanitation, leaky windows, and lawns”, and “Establish the balance in the home.” And it’s anchored by the sing-along chorus that just goes “But a mean old dog and a trampoline” three times before concluding, “Is alright with me.”

Each song on Mean Dog, Trampoline is interesting in its own right. Some of this is due to Lorenz’s skill as a vocalist. He combines intensity with quality singing in such a way that even nonsense like the title track sounds good. But some of it is just interesting musical ideas. “New York City” is a pulsing track that uses his usual fuzz guitar tone for a muscular rock riff instead of blues. And he finds and sticks with a phrase, just delivering “I’m driving south into New York / City, City” passionately enough to make it sticky. “Son of Steven” has a wide open, echoing sound that expands the Suitcase Junket’s usual intimate style into something much, much bigger. “Gods of Sleep” goes the other direction, stripping most of the excess noise away from his blues and making the song a passionate ballad that puts the focus on Lorenz’s voice and his female backing vocalist.

The album closes out with “What Happened” and “Old Machine”, two more songs that sound very different from each other. “What Happened” begins as a dirty blues track that pushes into a soaring chorus with choral backing vocals before sinking back into the blues for additional verses. “Old Machine”, on the other hand, is the record’s quietest song, a country-folk track that finds Lorenz harmonizing with himself (double-tracked, not throat singing). The suitcase and handclaps provide the percussion, while simple acoustic guitar picking provides most of the music. Touches of electric guitar and violin (maybe?) add body to the song here and there, but it’s a subdued, effective end to the record.

Mean Dog, Trampoline is a thoroughly enjoyable album that highlights Lorenz’s improving skills as a songwriter. Having Steve Berlin along as a producer certainly helps bring out more color in the Suitcase Junket’s music. Sometimes attempting to bring gritty lo-fi into a higher fidelity world mostly serves to flatten the sound and smooth out an act’s rough edges. But in this case, it allows Matthew Lorenz to successfully widen his scope without sacrificing his personal style.

RATING 7 / 10