Matthew Good: Avalanche (Universal Music Canada)

In this day and age, the U.S. isn’t so fond of anyone, artist or otherwise, who speaks his mind—that is, if his mind thinks anything different than the Bush administration wants it to.

First, I’ll tell you this: Matthew Good is the absolute best thing Canadian music has going for it. For some reason, Universal can’t quite figure out how to market Good in the U.S. It’s not that he sounds so unlike anything we’ve produced…or maybe it is. Good is a very intelligent, thought-provoking songwriter, and he doesn’t mind singing it as he sees it. In this day and age, the U.S. isn’t so fond of anyone, artist or otherwise, who speaks his mind—that is, if his mind thinks anything different than the Bush administration wants it to. (Maybe that’s why I like Matthew Good so much.)

Second, there’s this background: Two years ago, Matthew Good made Canadian headlines by severing his ties with his former band, the Matthew Good Band, with whom he had released four albums. Speculation instantly flew: had he grown too difficult to work with? Was he creatively dried up?

The answer comes as a resounding “No” on both counts with Avalanche, Good’s first solo effort and his most political album to date. The first two tracks on the disc seem directed at the current American administration. “Pledge of Allegiance” initially claims to be “a rehearsal for all the empty promises I will be.” Behind the lyrics, a simple drumbeat and synthesizer loop lend an undertone of gravity before a chorus of voices kicks in. Good’s voice, with its slight vibrato and nasal tones, has a rich range with which to present his thoughtful words. Next up is “Lullaby for the New World Order”; dramatic strings add tension as Good asks, “How can you take your heart out of this?/Somebody gave you a choice/ and all you do is abuse it./And how do you stop once you’ve started?” Truly, this is a beautiful and frightening song.

The slow-building “Weapon” is a gorgeous display of the heartbreaking qualities of Good’s voice. In the beginning are a gently picked guitar and haunting violin; as the music soars, Good warns, “Careful, you be careful/This is where the world drops off.” The single-ready “In a World Called Catastrophe” blends an upbeat melody with strings and Good’s soaring vocals. “One foot in front of the other,” a low-voiced Good repetitively intones to begin the title track; this is a stylistic switch for him, and evokes R.E.M. Still, the post-apocalyptic words are vintage Good: “The world’s spinning and we’re laughing/and I’m charming, the devil’s charming/and we’re ruined but we’re still building.”

The gimmick of the highly political (and tongue-in-cheek) “21st Century Living” is a cacophony of voiceovers remarking on the tendency toward exaggeration. Says one, “You know, today I was only asked one question: Do you want that supersized? It’s like the whole fucking world’s supersized.” “Near Fantastica” comes off as an anthem with swells, silence, and sounds, a futuristic sci-fi tale wherein we’re all cogs in this great computer: “After the mission it will let you go.” “Song for the Girl” is the closest thing to a love song that we’ll get from Good. Again the strings supplement guitar, drums, and piano, on “A Long Way Down,” as Good bids farewell to the world: “Today I’m leaving/this bullshit one horse town/full of cowboys and Indians/who only have balls when there’s a camera around.” Good closes the album with “House of Smoke and Mirrors” (also the title of his long-running Web blog) and presents himself as untrustworthy, a self-deprecating dash to put into question all the wizened words that preceded it: “You can see right through me.”

With Avalanche, Good is free of the band that backed him for so long. The result is a more honest glimpse of Matthew Good, in which he proves himself a protest singer for the 21st century. Don’t wait until Universal signs an American distribution deal; thanks to the magic of the Internet, you can buy Avalanche today and hear it for yourself.

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