Eric Matthews

It’s Heavy In Here (Sub Pop ’95) Rating: B
This debut was quite refreshing in 1995. With subdued, breathy vocals and plain, sweet melodies, Eric Matthews seemed like quite an original talent when contrasted with the overcrowded multitude of his “grunge” brethren (ironically, this album was released on Sub Pop records, the original home of “grunge” giants Soundgarden and Nirvana). Of course, this style had been done before but seemed to come from a distant time and place, when groups such as Love, The Beach Boys, The Zombies, The Left Banke, and Simon & Garfunkel created mini symphonies with what remained pop songs (remember, this was before Elliott Smith, Belle and Sebastian, and others of their ilk brought this type of music back to some level of prominence). One reviewer even went so far as to call Matthews “a '90s Nick Drake,” which is quite a compliment and one that’s not quite earned (actually, Matthews' soothing vocals have more in common with The Zombies' Colin Blunstone than Drake). Anyway, some people will probably be tempted to call this album "over-produced", but the truth is that Matthews' arranging ability is his primary strength; writing songs with hummable hooks isn't. As such, Matthews is at his most interesting when he uses non-standard instrumentation such as trumpets, cellos, violins, harpsichords, and various woodwinds along with acoustic and electric guitars to color his songs’ moods. When his sparse backdrops contain more standard fare, the consistently pretty melodies and refreshing air of innocence that this modest performer exudes doesn’t always overcome the similarities that these songs share. Well-crafted though his songs are, you'll probably have trouble remembering more than a few of them when all is said and done (“Fanfare,” “Forging Plastic Pain,” “Soul Nation Select Them,” “Fried Out Broken Girl,” and “Lust Takes Time” are probably my favorites, though that’s certainly subject to change with additional listens). He’s also not always on the right side of the fence between refined and bland, but It's Heavy In Here was still a promising first album from a performer who was then a fresh-faced new talent.

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