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Pleasure is Ours

By John Brodeur

Matthew Sweet

Sunshine Lies (Shout! Factory)

We count on Matthew Sweet to bring the power-pop goodness, and he does so, at least to an extent, on Sunshine Lies, his 10th studio album (due out Aug. 26). Two dozen years into a career that’s seen the Athens, Ga. singer-songwriter veer from fey commercial pap (his 1980s A&M releases) to a few of the ’90s most perfect pop confections (Girlfriend, 100% Fun) to sprawling affairs that would have benefited from a narrower scope (In Reverse), it’s never a given as to what Sweet will deliver next. Here, Sweet comes close to bringing perfection, but it’s that lack of focus that ultimately stops the release short.

Opening track “Time Machine” gets things off on the wrong foot: It’s a psychedelic but cluttered recording that makes all the right references to its chosen era (the Mellotron never fails to evoke the Sgt. Pepper’s era) but fails to amount to anything more than an exercise in recorded nostalgia. It’s an odd start because, as much as Sweet likes to look backward, hindsight’s not always 20-20: His best plucked-from-the-past moments come not when aping the Fab Four, but the when he evokes the jangly folk-pop sound of early Byrds records.

Thankfully, he does that a bunch here, on the 12-string-guitar-decorated title track and the rather obviously titled “Byrdgirl.” The flower-power anthem “Daisychain” is one of the album’s best numbers, achieving a Roger McGuinn-worthy level of Rickenbacker flourish. And the ballads, as per usual, are just gorgeous, especially “Pleasure Is Mine” and “Around You Now,” the latter a Girlfriend-worthy nugget of unfettered Sweet-ness.

Then there are the rock numbers, which do much to sell the album title’s duality, but little to enhance the listening experience. “Room to Rock” is blocky and poorly staged; “Sunrise Eyes” is Sweet in fist-pumping mode, which never suits him. But surprisingly, “Let’s Love”—a straight rocker driven by longtime drummer Ric Menck, and free of much of the guitar slop that bogs down some of the like-minded tracks—totally cooks, with a chord-slashing righteousness that recalls the Who’s “Substitute.”

It’s a little all over the place, like so many Matthew Sweet records, but for power-pop fans who are willing to pan for gold, Sunshine Lies has plenty of that buried beneath its dirty surface.

Does It Offend You, Yeah?

You Have No Idea What You Are Getting Yourself Into (Almost Gold)

Does It Offend You, Yeah? are neither as confrontational or controversial as their name might imply. In fact, these English electro-dorks decided to name their band after a quote from the British version of The Office. They do have some ugly, offensive tendencies however. Sometimes, when stuck somewhere between Bloc Party and Daft Punk, with abrasive vocals about breakups over thick bass lines, techno drumming and ear-shredding keyboard bleeps, it’s not clear if the guys in DOYY want to fuck you or kill you. And apparently that’s their whole gimmick: They always keep you guessing.

“Dawn of the Dead” might make you think you are in store for some sort of death-metal beatdown; instead what you find is a Human League-style dance tune with a bleating singer lamenting the fact that he has to leave some place or the other over the sound of steel drums and warm guitars—honestly, that is not a bad thing.

Other tunes like “Epic Last Song” and “Let’s Make Out” have the dancey, tra-la-la feeling of any good Bloc Party tune with the bleating sass of Death From Above 1979 mixed in for good measure. However, there also seems to be a heaping handful of techno filler with vocoder-laden vocals here, songs that make you wonder how they didn’t end up as B-sides. Reportedly the band are extremely abrasive during their live shows, earning them comparisons to Rage Against the Machine(!). However, this recording only hints at the band’s potential. It’s not that I want the band to decide whether they’re a techno band or a dance-rock band—I like that they won’t pin themselves to one thing—I just wish they would do both parts better. Like with the American version of The Office, I was left wondering why the writers did not take better cues from the original content they are aping; why they couldn’t try just a little bit harder.

—David King

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