Archive for the ‘music’ Category

Huntington Beach Native Matt Costa

 By: Joel Peterson 

For Matt Costa, it was skateboarding or guitar. High school never really entered into the equation. After a leg-shattering wreck, guitar chose him. The 25-year-old Huntington Beach native, Jack Johnson understudy and folkie on the rise used his lengthy recovery time to hone his jingle-jangle licks while, presumably, the trucks of his skateboard rusted slowly in some dark corner. After befriending No Doubt guitarist Tom Dumont through the burgeoning So-Cal arts scene, Costa was encouraged to start recording the compositions he’d made while injured. Dumont went on to produce Costa’s first full-length album, Songs We Sing. After a stint of summer music festivals and a tour with label-mate Jack Johnson, Costa now finds himself headlining (and selling-out) a tour in support of his new album, Unfamiliar Faces.

Costa plays El Corazon 2/8, Dads Wait Nervously Outside

Friday, February 8th, Costa played to a sold out, all-ages audience at Seattle’s El Corazon. Fathers’ daughters were dropped off by the SUV-full to see the brown-eyed crooner perform his dreamy tunes. To an objective first timer like myself, Costa’s shy-guy delivery and aw-shucks stage presence flirted with phlegmatic, but the belief that he seemed uninspired was the minority opinion. My informal exit polls pegged him as “cute,” and even “amazing.”

Most songs were strict interpretations of the album versions, without the benefit of Dumont’s polish, frustratingly so. The ragtime, toe-tapping “Mr. Pitiful” begged for an extended version. I envisioned Costa pounding away at the infectious piano hook while the band towed the line before rounding it up for a final chorus—or two, or three.  Friday’s presentation felt like Costa surreptitiously snuck it into the middle of the set only to saltate forward to sing-along classics (if you’re 16) like “Sunshine” and “Behind the Moon.” Perhaps Costa is not yet comfortable with the pianist role he’s assumed on Unfamiliar Faces’ first single.

Shortly thereafter, Costa remarked, “I’m going to play something softer.” With things felling flaccid already, I braced myself. Along came “Vienna,” a new song about missing an American girl while in Germany. But just as the energy of Costa’s pop songs was stifled, the emotive longing of “Vienna” was conversely, uh, softened.

Returning to stage for an encore, Costa finally showed a glimmer of personality (hopefully) lying under the surface. An intimate, solo-acoustic performance of “Astair” from Songs We Sing gave him a chance to show off what 18 months of lying around with a guitar propped gingerly over a broken femur can do for a person’s finger-picking prowess. If Costa wishes to eschew the pages of Bop, there’s hope for him in moments like these. Otherwise, keep the sing-alongs coming—Dad’s warming up the Yukon.




Introspective Review

The Soul Project—the 13-track debut collaboration from Introspective, a Seattle emcee (and Garfield High grad) and Portland-based producer Lawz Spoken—employs a familiar Pacific Northwest sound:  laconic, somnolent beats bounding behind Intro’s soulful bass. At first, the duo’s style may appear to follow the popular form pioneered by Blue Scholars and Common Market, but a closer listen reveals an achievement the bigger names have yet to accomplish:  a hip-hop album of the darkly, even painfully, personal.

Born and bred on the peak of Beacon Hill / Breathe the rarified air, speaking what I feel, Introspective introduces himself on “Emerald Star.” These streets conceal a lot of jagged little pills. The song, a familiar urban chronicle of cops stop[ping] to seize small drug money off a minority, and a homeless man tak[ing] a piss behind a dumpster, culminates with an unexpected admission of voyeuristic non-participation: and I watch it unfold through my window. In a genre that puts an emphasis on boasting and “street creed,” this is a startlingly honest moment. There is little swagger or heroism (or even anti-heroism) in Introspective’s lyrics. As he raps on “Death of a Superman,” I’m only Clark Kent when I’m on the microphone…the perfect fusion of comic books and TV/ Yeah, I don’t believe me either / But everybody wants a superman to light the night up.

Nowhere on the Soul Project is the falsified braggadocio that afflicts much of the mainstream. Thankfully, the clichéd consciousness that so often hinders the underground doesn’t really make an appearance here either.

Instead, the album reveals a near epical battle between the creative individual and his demons. Sing your song, do your dance, he sings on the triumphal “Beautiful Music,” whatever you need to do…before the demons come back ready to devour, and The essence of creation is definitely God-given / and for me, man, it’s the purpose of life.

Even on tracks where Introspective broadens the scope, such as “Elevator Music,” he manages to bring it back to the personal: There’s disease, famine, strife and world hunger / Pain, racism, death in large numbers…There’s rapists, thieves, serial killers / Politicians, false prophets, adolescent drug dealers / When your life’s a nightmare you learn to cherish your sleep / Everybody’s got demons, some just got more teeth. Where other artists may have hovered in more general, less effective climes, Introspective uses these personal recognitions as a poetic springboard into the universal. I could make the song cry, but I would cry with it, he raps on the same track, reprising Jay-Z. I put myself into the music, not afraid to die with it.

Ultimately the portrait that emerges from this album is a man of unerring faith. The Bible’s influence appears in “Shades of Blue,” an oddly apocalyptic tale laid over a gorgeous, simmering melody. And the sky fell into the earth and everybody ran / Nightmares confirmed with a wave of a hand / Those that disbelieved tried to make a stand / Unable to see this was the end of their plan. But the disbelievers aren’t the only ones who suffer the immensity of God’s wrath; the righteous praying beneath looked up and were crushed by the falling debris.

The most affecting of the religious-themed tracks is “Sartor Resartus,” a reference to the nineteenth-century philosophical tract by Thomas Carlyle about awakening through suffering. The song deals with the loss of a woman, an “angel,” and the ensuing suffering that tests his faith: I’m weak and not really sure if I believe / The hatred for myself seems to be all I see / I’m infected with a skeptic’s disorder of thought / Thinking death has better rest than the alternative’s got. Ultimately the speaker comes to the realization that God’s brain is bigger than mine, and that although this life gets harder everyday / truth be told I wouldn’t have it any other way.

The Soul Project’s themes are somber ones:  unrequited love, depression, self-loathing. But beneath the pessimism simmers the sweeter, ultimately redemptive quality of faith—in God, love and, most of all, music. In this, a surprisingly assured debut album, Introspective portrays himself as an artist of shaken yet resilient faith; both an ineluctable citizen of humanity and an artist morosely aloof.

The album also features two verses by Portland-based emcee  HYPERLINK “http://MR.MR” t “_blank” MR.MR, Introspective’s partner from the duo Gray Matters. The majority of the tracks were produced by Lawz Spoken, however Skwirm of Soul Mechanix produced “Emerald Star” and Piotrek Migula produced “Daybreak” and “Good Question.” Migula also served as main sound engineer and is given much credit by the group for resurrecting the project from near-fatal post-production problems two years ago.

HYPERLINK “” t “_blank” (CD Baby link)

HYPERLINK “” t “_blank” (My Space home page for Gray Matters and Introspective)

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It would seem most appropriate to review Grand Archives’ debut LP without any comparison between it and front man Mat Brooks’ former outfit, Band of Horses.  It seems only fair to critique this first Sub Pop release based solely upon its own musical merits.  Yes, a somewhat unclean break between Brooks and BOH front man Ben Bridewell was the catalyst for Grand Archives, but, nonetheless, they should only be viewed as an entirely separate entity …

… Which is why it’s so frustrating to hear the opening vocal strains of “Torn Blue Foam Couch” and be so utterly reminded of Everything All The Time.  The weightlessly ethereal croon Brooks begins the album with is painfully similar to many of the stand-out tracks from the impressive first disc of his former band.  Yet, perhaps, Brooks’ intention in firing an opening salvo so reminiscent is to allow the true sound of Grand Archives to fully be realized—regardless of what came before.

If this was Brooks’ goal, he achieved it admirably. Over the course of the debut, Grand Archives beautifully formulates a distinct sound; a multi-layered vocal tapestry interwoven with equal parts melancholy and cheer.  Brooks composes sparse yet complex melodies; rife with ghostly harmonization that at times (such as the deceptively cheerful “Miniature Birds”) brings The Beach Boys to mind.

Grand Archives finds a depth in its compositions based on the altogether feel of the album, as if every member was entirely involved in every step of the process.  The gentle country-twang that finds its way into the harmonica-laced, front-porch lullaby of “George Kaminski,” and the way the popular “Sleepdriving” echoes solemnly behind a meaty piano’s chord progression show the work of a band tightly knitted at all stages—something Brooks’ musical alma mater is hard-fought to attest to.

In the end, Grand Archives has crafted an intriguing first album, one that clearly distinguishes themselves not only from what came before, but as a musical force all their own.




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