The Gift Machine Goodbye/Goodluck

[Knw-Yr-Own; 2009]

Others: Silver Jews, Little Wings, Smog

Dave Matthies has long been a member of the rotating cast of musicians in the Pacific Northwest indie pop scene that revolves around K, Knw-Yr-Own, and a handful of other labels. Around the dawn of the decade, a pair of albums with his band The Gift Machine stood out for their aggressively hard-rocking take on the playfully minimalist pop of the scene. With a slicker production aesthetic, the albums suggested a band itching to connect with an audience. But while the past seven years have seen Matthies take on a number of other roles in front of the mic and behind the board, his star vehicle has been dormant until now.

As one might expect, the passage of time has had its effects on The Gift Machine, and the extent of this change is fairly pronounced on Goodbye/Goodluck. Having moved to the coast of southern California, the sun has apparently melted down much of the tension behind his earlier efforts, dissolving it into a kind of pleasant, mellow buzz. Largely recorded in a small shack at the ocean's edge far from Washington state, Matthies' move away from home has brought him perversely to a lo-fi sound. But rather than being precious or twee, his songwriting has instead morphed into a more folk/alt-country mode. Lyrically, he plays the harmless, well-intentioned slacker, wanting to make things work, but never quite achieving success. It's hard not to think of a song like "I Fell off the Map" as being autobiographical -- and yet, even if it is, it doesn't express any frustration, only content.

Indeed, The Gift Machine sound completely comfortable. Matthies' dry humor, his slightly frail voice, and the simple arrangements allow the songs to gently amble along, making potentially fraught subjects -- the impossibility of communication, personal failure, and the struggle to find motivation -- seem surmountable, or at least manageable. Andrea Gruber's voice aids to this end, providing a subtle buoyancy to what could easily have been too loose and laid back otherwise.

Although their overall sound is more mid-’90s indie than cutting edge, I will hazard to guess that this bit of micro-nostalgia will please any of Matthies' longtime fans and probably impress a few who didn't love his more rocking output in the past. Goodbye/Goodluck is the sound of an artist being allowed to mature, and there's something reassuring, if not inspiring, about that.

1. Cut Right through It
2. In the Middle
3. Back to the Source
4. I Fell off the Map
5. Trying to Get There
6. Goodbye/Goodluck
7. Get Out in It
8. What Do You Require
9. It Had to Be You
10. Borrowed Time (and Water)
11. Tell Me How It Goes
12. My Love
13. I Still Don't Feel Like Dancing

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