Release Date: Sep 27, 2011
Record label: Missing Piece Records
Genre(s): Pop/Rock, Alternative/Indie Rock, Alternative Pop/Rock
No longer even feigning an interest in the modern world or perhaps the world outside his four walls, Matthew Sweet hunkers down with his vintage, semi-hollow bodies and 12-strings, channeling them through vintage amps in a heartfelt ode to the past that’s perhaps ironically called Modern Art. If there is modernity, it’s of the mid-century modern variety, where clean lines and tiki lamps constitute a happening pad, where each side of a vinyl LP lasts not much longer than 20 minutes. Sweet doesn’t ape this aesthetic precisely, he shuffles it around to his own liking, fully aware that this is the product of “Late Nights with the Power Pop,” one of the songs here that doesn’t have as bold a hook as expected.
Matthew Sweet’s Sunshine Lies was an uneven album that thudded where it should have bounced. Modern Art is a return to form, more balanced in the mix of songcraft, experimentation, and musicianship. Oh, Oldendaze sets the thematic tone for the record, a reflection on nostalgia’s deceit, where Sweet points out that memories never stand the test of time.
It’s always a delicate balance when you wear your musical influences on your sleeve the way Matthew Sweet does. Consider the intro track (“Oh, Oldendaze!”) of Sweet’s Modern Art. Even the slightest power-pop fan is bound to be ecstatic, with its beautiful modernist interpretation of Big Star guitar pop. But immediately, on the next up “Ivory Tower,” things take a boring, bland and unimaginative turn to Magical Mystery Tour-era Beatles.
Modern Art, the new album by adored pop songwriter Matthew Sweet, bursts with intimacy (which may sound slightly oxymoronic). Rather than promote hooks and power, its songs rest comfortably in a world of delicate production and fragile timbres (of which Sweet’s voice is the tenderest). It simultaneously reflects on the past, comments on the present, and hopes for the future.
Matthew Sweet’s pop music credentials are impeccable and varied. He emerged from the fertile Athens, Georgia music scene, where he rubbed shoulders with R.E.M, and then went on to record a slew of critically acclaimed, ’60s-influenced, solo albums. He’s also been part of The Thorns with Shawn Mullins and Pete Droge, released two CDs of well-chosen covers with Susanna Hoffs of The Bangles, and even appeared with Hoffs in Ming Tea, a fictitious band from the 1960s, fronted by none other than Austin Powers.