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Eric Matthews - Foundation Sounds

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Artist: Eric Matthews

Album: Foundation Sounds

Label: Empyrean

Review date: Sep. 24, 2006

It’s sometimes hard to know how to take Eric Matthews. From the copious portrait photography to the liner notes charting his musical progress (resulting in his fourth album “[yielding] something really special”), he can come across as overly self-regarding and, well, a bit prissy. However, I think this has less to do with Matthews himself and more his background within classical music circles, within which self-regard and pomposity often run rife. Truth be known, Matthews is actually pretty humble – at least in comparison with conservatorium types I’ve had to endure via my line of work over the past half-decade – and the intellectual/theoretical consideration within his writing and thinking is beyond most musicians’ priggish self-justification.

Moreover, Matthews is actually able to make the leap between worlds, from classical into pop, without sounding like a dilettante. He’s still worrying away at the same concerns as on his first solo album It’s Heavy in Here – a slightly arch, poised song that leans on 1960s orch-pop pragmatics to make its points. This can lead to some flawed constructs that are more about stylistic gestures than arrangement-in-service-to-song, and when the songs are out-and-out great, Matthews’ thin, wispy voice sometimes simply disappears.

Calling someone a solid songwriter is a bit like cursing them as interesting, but Matthews is an old-school artisan, one of those characters who paints everything perfectly, not an unexplained dot on the canvas. While the perfectionism can leave things sounding a bit vacuum-packed – there are no misplaced notes, no glorious mistakes – at its strongest Foundation Sounds is another one of those great essays into what pop could have been had it forked off at a different point in its history, another glimpse at an alternate reality.

By Jon Dale

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