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 » 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.
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 » 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!
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Music Reviews

Screaming Females - Castle Talk
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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
Halcyon Digest
No Age - Everything in Between
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Everything in Between
Sub Pop
Robyn - Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
Body Talk Pt. 1/ Body Talk Pt. 2
The Walkmen - Lisbon
»The Walkmen
Fat Possum
Syd Matters

Rating: 8/10 ?

June 13, 2006
Mass produced American girls, manufactured by the Hollywood dream factory with "…shiny smiles and plastic bodies," are the subject of a folk-pop love letter from French singer-songwriter Syd Matters. Written in sandy, samba rhythms, moon-glow keyboards and a spacious Jimmy Webb-style acoustic melody that gets you to Phoenix in no time flat, "To All Of You" offers a toast "to all of you American girls in the movies, no one can tell where your heart is." Matters doesn't know where his is either; when a guy gives it away to long forgotten movie starlets as freely as he does, a heart is hard to keep track of.

Like the acoustic alter ego of Beck that surfaced on Sea Change and others descended from Nick Drake, Matters, the adopted stage name of one Jonathan Morali, is fond of museum-quality nostalgia and prone to bouts of melancholy. Where he parts company with his fellow folk travelers is when that narrow path of constantly churning out sparse, sad sack acoustic ballads forks and Matters detours into sunnier, more fully developed pop territory or crafts grand arrangements that touch the hem of Radiohead's regal, epic garment. For those that thought Sea Change was a mind-numbingly gray, laborious exercise in recycled acoustic patterns and interminable confessionals, Syd Matters should come as a welcome surprise.

Released by V2 for an American audience that wouldn't know Syd Matters from Serge Gainesbourg, this eponymous collection of Matters' most engaging material to date features his sophomore release, Someday We Will Foresee Obstacles, in its entirety and is fleshed out with a host of tracks from his debut, A Whisper And A Sigh. If you haunt Barnes and Nobles' stores looking for coffee and discount versions of the Da Vinci Code, you may have already stumbled across this CD. For a while, the chain had exclusive rights to sell Syd Matters in the U.S. In June, the monopoly was broken and it became available to all retailers, which is the American way. Matters prefers to do things the "English Way."

One of 16 songs on this collection, "English Way" sees Matters pounding away dramatically at an electric piano before wailing darkly as synthetic strings spiral upward like smoke from a burnt offering. Breaking up the funeral procession is a flurry of drums, a sweep of rushing keyboards and a striking weight of black, polished stones of guitar, each throwing the moment it inhabits into tumult; listening to the track one can't quite figure out if Matters' bluster is approaching Thom Yorke's godhead or the antithesis: Coldplay banality. I see more of the divine in Matters' transcendent folk-pop. The triumphant horns, golden finger-picking and the vocal flood of "Obstacles" are heavenly, while loopy, video-game electronics and snippets of Junior Achievement pep talks add a bit of wistful fun to "Icare."

Structured around a variety of complex acoustic guitar patterns, the blueprints of Matters' songs are easy to follow. Filling in the blank spaces is a mix of traditional instruments and electronic accoutrement. Matters' tangled guitar figures spin on and on and on, into the bright Baroque pop of "Someday Sometimes," while "Passe Muraille" opens with deep, moving cello that echoes the despair of Sea Change. Discordant, bleating saxophone and hints of electronic dissonance disturb the quiet meditation with freak violence that calms before Matters charms you with music-box chimes, more of those intricate, spellbinding guitar patterns he's weaves so well and wonderful vocal rounds that circle your head like trained doves.

Traditionalists will smile and nod knowingly at the Drake-like acoustic balladry of "Lost Bird" and "Flow Backwards," where Matters' slightly weathered vocals roll like the verdant hills of the English countryside. "Bones" calls to mind Tom Waits, stripped of his carnival theatrics. More weary and disconsolate is the beginning of "Battle Of Olympus," where Matters' heavy voice is weighted down by failed expectations and old age. Soldiering on, Matters lifts his head, turning more upbeat with tricky finger-picking that sparkles like gold.

Clarity is the hallmark of Matters' melodies. They don't get lost in the sort of hazy 60s folk-pop of Belle And Sebastian, though Matters certainly shares Stuart Murdoch's lyrical preoccupation with the past. Take issue, if you must, with Matters' reliance on complicated acoustic constructions. With overuse, their power to enthrall grows more fleeting. Still, the easy manner with which Matters toys with spindly, traditional folk styles and technological wizardry makes his music captivating on a number of levels. Syd does, indeed, matter.

Reviewed by Peter Lindblad
Peter Lindblad lives in Appleton, Wis., and bleeds green and gold just like all the Packer fan nutjobs in the area. He does draw the line at wearing blocks of chedder on his head, or any other body parts for that matter, though. His professional career has taken weird twists and turns that have led him to his current position as an editor at a coin magazine. He hopes his stay there will be a short one. Before that, he worked as an associate editor at a log home magazine. To anyone that will listen, he\'ll swear that Shiner was one of the greatest rock bands to ever walk the earth. Yet he also has much love for Superchunk, Spoon, DJ Shadow, Swervedriver, Wilco, Fugazi, Jawbox, ... And You Will Know Us By The Trail Of Dead, Queens Of The Stone Age, and Modest Mouse, among others.

See other reviews by Peter Lindblad



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