Living Things

Matthew Sweet’s newest album, Living Things, stands as a landmark recording for an artist who has proved himself one of the most accomplished songsmiths of the past two decades. Not only is it the first release on his own label, Superdeformed, but it’s one of two recordings in what will likely be a line of home-recorded albums. The albums (Living Things and Kimi Ga Saki * Raifu) focus on spontaneous songwriting, each written and recorded in mere weeks. Matthew’s new albums can be released more quickly than his major label offerings while not sacrificing quality and increasing his artistic freedom.
Living Things is packaged in an attractive paper case that features flowers and bees. This is certainly an indication of the artistic direction of the album, as it brings on lightness musically and lyrically is rich with nature appreciation and metaphor. Perhaps this direction is in no small part prompted by Matthew’s recent interest in Zen Buddhism.
“The Big Cats of Shambala” opens the disc, treating listeners to a unique track that places mandola and steel drums in prominent places within a song voicing respect for nature and its beauty. Following is “You’re Not Sorry,” a somber ballad that can be placed among his very best and is reminicent of his Girlfriend album. “Dandelion” is the surprise of the album, opening with buzzing and moving into a great pulsing bass lead, exploring feelings of lacking purpose and wanting more than we get, all underlined with nature sound reminders of what we should be appreciating. “In My Tree” is another nature-inspired song that I took to be a wish for oneness. “Cats vs. Dogs” lightheartedly explores the differences between lovers of cats and lovers of dogs with amusing lyrics such as “a cat ain’t gonna save you, but he’ll clean your bones after you’re dead.” Three other highlight tracks are “I Saw Red,” a bluesy verse-driven song, “Season Is Over,” a well crafted lament, and “Tomorrow” a song about looking forward instead of dwelling on the past and the freedom of future choices.
Living Things is an excellent, experimental album of the highest quality. It shows the work of a pop master at his finest. If you have room on your Christmas list, I highly recommend you add it. Otherwise, treat yourself to a gem that has so far been overlooked.

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