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 » Full Dark, No Stars - Stephen King's new novella questions mankind's ability to trust others.
[02.21.2011 by Bridget Doyle]

MUSIC

 » The Top 30 Albums of 2010 - Fashionably, fabulously late, our favorite music (and believe me, there was a LOT) of 2010, the year that some have called the best year for music ever. And only some of those fools work here. Plenty of usual suspects, lots of ties and a few surprises that I won't spoil, including our unexpected #1.
[12.24.2010 by The LAS Staff]

MUSIC

 » Live: Surfer Blood/The Drums at Lincoln Hall, Chicago, IL - Remember when Weezer used to put together records that you could sing along to and rock out to? That's what Surfer Blood's show was like!
[11.04.2010 by Cory Tendering]

Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
»Screaming Females
Castle Talk
Don Giovanni
Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross - The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
»Trent Reznor & Atticus Ross
The Social Network [Original Soundtrack]
The Null Corporation
Deerhunter - Halcyon Digest
»Deerhunter
Halcyon Digest
4AD
No Age - Everything in Between
»No Age
Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
»Robyn
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Konichiwa
The Walkmen - Lisbon
»The Walkmen
Lisbon
Fat Possum
Matthew Sweet
Living Things
Superdeformed Records

Rating: 8/10 ?


October 1, 2004
As long as there has been a true, passionate love of music in my bones, there has been Matthew Sweet. While he has moved from musical obsession to respected mainstay in my catalog, I credit every bit of my musical admiration and exploration to his initial nudging - if it weren't for his catalog, I would never have looked to find others; I owe a lot to Matthew Sweet.

His previous release, In Reverse, was a monumental record. While largely overlooked by the radio-dwelling population, I dare say it may have eclipsed his landmark Girlfriend. It was created to be his Pet Sounds in every respect, with its glistening Wall of Sound, its intricate production, universal themes and heart wrenching totality. It is a masterpiece, not only for a devoted fan, but in the annals of music itself, and if you allow it, it can be wondrously absorbing.

I implore you to use your imagination for a moment at this point: imagine if, after Pet Sounds, Smile was created to broad commercial success. The Beach Boys' star shone brighter in the wake of their weirdest inclinations, and the album was adored by the population at large. All over the airwaves, its fractured take on novelty became the pattern of rock to come.

Living Things is best observed on that particular playground. As In Reverse emulated the lush distinction and overpowering essence of Pet Sounds, Living Things has the same silly-yet-experimental, inwardly collapsing quality as Smile. Progressing to the point of decomposition, the most mundane topics have become absurd and consciously radio-friendly sounds turn a hardened stare toward ironic greatness.

At the same time, if for thirty years we'd heard the repercussions of Smile all over the radio, its freshness would lessen every time it was recreated for a new generation. This is the dangerous line that Living Things treads: it wavers between over-the-top and ridiculous, sarcastically banal and MOR. Fortunately, it succeeds much more frequently than it falters; with the help of friend and Smile co-author, Van Dyke Parts on nine of the eleven tracks, it stands soundly in those comparisons.

The collective adventure begins with the exotic, breezy oddity, "The Big Cats of Shambala," brightening and entrancing with steel drums and mandola and setting in images of nature to be continued thematically throughout the album. It feels easy and joyous, but deconstructs into a eulogy for the endangered. Its sentiment darkens a bit, making way for one of the album's many ballads, "You're Not Sorry."

Living Things harbors several soul-bearing, intricate pieces, aligning it most squarely with his vast collection of b-sides. Many of Matthew's best tracks have never been heard by a general audience, which is a fact he very publicly acknowledges in press and print. While I urge you, in your spare time, to seek out tracks like "Eskimo" and "Vicious Circle," note that Living Things finally brings to the forefront this self-knowledge with its many unraveling, moving forays into balladry. It is no coincidence that so many of his cherished rarities are slow and thoughtful, as this seems to be his most expressive state of mind; "You're Not Sorry," as well as "In My Tree" and "Season is Over" illustrate this point very ably.

To the other extreme, the novelty song "Cats Vs. Dogs" is fairly ridiculous in its bubbly sentiment. Most closely related to Smile's "Vegetables," it still feels like an anomaly on the album with its purposely silly depiction of people who love one type of animal over another. While slyly hiding festering lines, including images of "cleaning your bones when you die," it does bring the album to a momentary stop, taking the audience out of their suspension of disbelief to question their bizarre surroundings.

Overall, however, the album runs fairly smoothly, buzzing like the bees on its jacket, from blossom to Technicolor blossom. It has a grainy, streamlined quality, particularly on the standout track, "Dandelion," which begins, quite strikingly, like Broken Social Scene's "Stars and Sons," and never fully shakes the same unaffected feel.

The blues-influenced, harmonica-filled "I Saw Red" has a similar unflappability, but marks a close to the conscious darkness of the front of the album. From the open of the mockingly bouncy "Push the Feelings" to the enveloping, warm sunshine of "Sunlight" and "Tomorrow," Living Things is not only fixed on experimentation and newfound, raw groove, but it is bursting with open-eyed optimism and natural beauty. Its title is intentionally fitting: of all of his albums, it is distinctly alive.

Reviewed by Sarah Peters
A former music editor and staff writer for LAS, Sarah Peters recently disappeared. Perhaps one day she will surface again, who knows.

See other reviews by Sarah Peters

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