Eric Matthews Foundation Sounds

[Empyrean; 2006]

Styles: melodramatic, orchestral, slick, sappy pop
Others: Scritti Politti, Burt Bacharach, Barry Manilow

With Foundation Sounds, Eric Matthews has created a breathy, bombastic collection of sentimental pop songs. Similar to previous recordings, brass, strings, and woodwinds (all played by Matthews) embroider his confessional lyrics and anguished acoustic guitar strumming. Matthews flees (yes, flees) the fragility of typical indie rock vocals in favor of a multi-tracked, breathy/breathless delivery that glazes his often overwrought words with earnestness.

For a few songs, this approach is convincing, even beautiful. But over the course of the album's 17 tracks, Matthews has a tendency to recycle vocal techniques: the swooning crescendo that slides up an octave; the vulnerable descrescendo to a whisper. By the latter half of the album, he's trying to wring pathos from ploys that have already been twisted dry.

In short, Matthews has carefully located his affective strike zone. But listening to this record from start to finish is a bit like watching a home run derby -- the strength of the star in question is impressive and indubitable, but it would be much more interesting if it were being exercised in a less redundant context. Matthews clearly has the compositional acumen to write lovely songs, and I would love to hear the music that would result if he used his talent and candor to trace a greater variety of emotional arcs.

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