I am not going to lie, I have sort of been dreading doing my write up/review/whatever for this album. Most people who know me, or regular readers (both of you) know what Matthew Good is my favourite musician, so I was worried that I would come across as bias (at best) or a gushing fanboy (at worst). But here we go, I'll give it a shot.
His eighth full length album (counting back to the Band) is, as you can probably tell from the title, about Vancouver. Though it is not the theme of the album, but more the backdrop. It is both a love letter and a critique; as someone who has lived here his entire life, Good doesn't shy away from what is wrong with the city, but it is also clear that he cares about its ills because he loves it so.
First single "Last Parade" kicks the album off, and all ready you can tell it is going to be a bit more grandiose than the last few albums; more in line with his first solo outing, Avalanche. It also kind of introduces the theme of the album, when he spits out "It feels like time to fuck or leave" but then assures us with the chorus line "Baby, ain't it good to be back home?" It transitions nicely into "The Boy Who Could Explode", which builds from an almost haunting beginning to a soaring chorus, and even though it runs just over seven minutes, it manages not to get to boring or repetitive. Which actually happens a few times in the album, as it's only ten songs but just shy of an hour long. "Great Whales of the Sea" starts ominously, and appropriately, enough with some thunder, rain and soft whale-sounding calls before the song creeps in, for a very muted first half. The whales return mid-song before exploding into a climactic and energetic finish. I only wish it were longer; it is packed with great songwriting, yet somehow manages to be the shortest song of the album (and the only one under four minutes). Next up is "Us Remains Impossible", one of the more catchy tracks that could easily be the next single. "On Nights Like Tonight" is a bit moodier, and incredibly powerful & heartbreaking. You can feel the raw emotion as the song almost grinds to a halt for the pleading "just sit tight and I'll make my way to you" followed by the chorus "If I'm not on time / Remember that I tried". It all culminates with a beautiful swell of strings. The atmospheric "Volcanoes" follows, another slow build to a soaring chorus and is followed by "A Silent Army In The Trees", quite possibly the most powerful song on the album. It presents the disillusioned soldier who does not at all resemble the heroic fantasies of youth, lamenting "Never thought I'd live to see see the day, I'd be / Afraid of little kids playing in the streets". And the fantastic rise and fall of the music does nothing but add to the tragic beauty. "Fought To Fight It" is the most high energy and balls-out-rock song of the album, with a harshness to the music and Good spitting the lyrics through grit teeth for the verses, but ringing out with unparallelled confidence in the chorus. The album draws to a close with two absolutely epic songs. "The Vancouver National Anthem" times in at almost seven minutes, and is, as you may expect, the probably the only song "about" Vancouver, with lines like "We all live downtown / We all die downtown / Step over ourselves" evoking certain areas of the city. It is also, again as you would expect, very anthemic and grand. The incredibly ambitious "Empty's Theme Park" brings the album to an amazing close. With it's raw emotion, magnificent strings and subdued energy which is always just bubbling at the top, it does more with it's nine and a half minutes than many bands do in a whole album.
"Tell me will I dream?
And tell me will it be serene?
Or tell me will I stay
With my feet in exactly the same place?"
As with a lot of his work, Good's lyrics are still his best asset. From vague & intriguing to poignant and everywhere in between, that is the lynch pin of the album. Which is, of course, not to say that the music isn't top notch as well. It is still identifiable as Matthew Good, but he hasn't stopped taking leaps. It may sound reminiscent, but never repetitive.
Do I think of Vancouver so highly because I am such a Matthew Good fan? Or am I such a Matthew Good fan because of albums like this, which I am going to go out on a limb and call my favourite of the year? I would like to think that because I am so enamoured with his music, that gives me a much more critical ear to it. All I know for sure is, I can't wait to see what is next.
Download Great Whales of the Sea
Download On Nights Like Tonight
Download A Silent Army in the Trees