Matthew and the Judes - Where on Earth?
Record Label: None
Release Date: April 22, 2008
Matthew & the Judes are a college-based sextet from Churchville by way of State College, PA. Claiming to be fans of Of Montreal, Daniel Johnston, As Tall as Lions, Matt Pond PA and Margot and the Nuclear So and So’s, Matthew & the Judes play a quirky, ambient strain of lo-fi, indie pop that’s off-kilter, catchy and wholly original. Sprinkled into a five song EP are trumpet, glockenspiel, violin, piano, woodblock and cello.
Aside from the spotty vocals, which are listenable on some songs and average on others, the album is a towering triumph of the indie pop variety. Album opener “Waves” only has three lines of verses before it segues into a sea of chiming, orchestral beauty. It’s the kind of song to listen to when busting open the doors to greet a warm, summer morning. One can almost visualize the Pixar scene unfolding as the trumpet wails, an acoustic guitar strums and a flourish of melodious grandeur ensues. Truth be told, of all the songs that have come across my desk so far this year, few have an album opener as triumphant or cheery as "Waves."
Then reality sets in. Second track “And Bye Bye,” which vocalist Whittle admits is “ostensibly an As Tall as Lions send up,” tries its hand at sincerity, but unfortunately falters, and is thankfully saved by ringing guitars and an amalgam of brassy and acoustic trimmings. Sadly though it’s the album’s weakest track and a bad position for a second track. From there the album is hit-and-miss, as it tries to cover up the vocals porousness but doesn’t really ever get there. Songs “Winter Blues,” title track “Where on Earth,” and instrumental “The Gardener,” are all buoyant and unique and evoke a Neutral Milk Hotel-like sentiment, but leave the listener hoping for a little more. That is not to say there isn’t a lot to like here. The sonic dimensions of the disc are bold, musically deft and shimmering, but one needs a little more lyrical and vocal padding to be completely satisfied.
Considering the band is still in college and probably limited to both funds and time constraints, one does not expect something along the lines of Oh Inverted World. And sadly, Where on Earth is far from those heights. What it is though, is the sound of a true DIY band not afraid to take chances nor afraid to think outside of the box. Staying true to their influences, which also include Sean Lennon, Jon Brion and Elliot Smith, the quintet puts together songs that are promising and mildly captivating.
With music being so cookie-cutter these days, there’s a lot to like about the six songs on Where on Earth, and with plans to put together a full-length in the fall with a bigger budget, there’s at least ample room for growth. Not yet ready to be crowned an artist-to-watch, Matthew & The Judes are on the brink of something big, let’s hope their next release changes that.