Kicking off reviews for 2021 in February, bypassing January completely, in the midst of a snowstorm the likes of which has not been seen in these parts in ages. Fitting, really. What better company than that of an old friend? I am speaking of the new record by England’s Sunstack Jones. A group that is equal parts Americana and British psychedelia. All these things and more. The band enjoys a loose association with The Verve’s Simon Jones (no relation), who has lent his recording techniques to the latest records by Sunstack Jones (no relation). All joking aside, this is a fruitful collaboration that has drawn out the band’s strengths. Paul Den Heyer once again is involved in the final mixes, giving the new album a familiar vibe from previous albums. That being said, Golden Repair is the finest album yet from Sunstack Jones. Not many bands can say that at this stage in their career.
The Conduit of Humanity project released a promising debut album The Zen Cage late last year. An album featuring many musicians and collaborations, it made an impact on me. To this day, it warrants repeated listens. Fred Jeske & his collaborators were inspired by the timeline songs of Todd Rundgren as filtered through a Sloan inspired alternative rock sound. I found it to be one of the best debut albums of 2019. Rather than resting on their laurels, the band is back with their 2nd album. Fortunately, this is no sophomore slump. Rather, this is an album that deepens the sounds of the 1st album while exploring new horizons. It’s a different animal, really – there are even shades The Lamb Lies Down on Broadway era Genesis here. Equality might even be better than the debut.
Symmetry presents itself in many different ways. In 2020 – at least in my life – this has emanated in unusual ways. A move back to the Philadelphia region entailed a 3,000-mile drive in a Honda Civic. The last time I moved cross country 18 years ago to Seattle it also involved a long drive in a Honda Civic. Peculiar. Anyway, the challenges this year have contained multitudes, and yet as the year closes out I find myself in pretty much the same state I was in as the year started. Anyway, this is all a preamble to the fact that I’ve been sitting on the debut album by Distance to Zero for longer than planned. Not quite post punk, it is a DIY project that speaks to me in a way that the absolute best artists have throughout my life. It also helps that I’ve had a connection to band founder over the last few years.
SJ Collier first connected with me to discuss an act on his Stereokill Recordings label. The Cornelius Crane were an amazing American influenced band and I heavily promoted them at the time (I still love them). From there I worked Mr. Collier and discovered the various bands on his label’s roster. I took particular notice of SupaJamma featuring Martin ‘Sugar’ Merchant from Audioweb on vocals. I loved the instrumental work that SJ Collier did on the various releases. Anyway, he’s been promising a new project for a while now and I’ve been listening to the songs on repeat for weeks. Unfortunately, the best laid plans can go awry, and I found myself dealing with real life issues. 2020, as they say, will be memorable for all the wrong reasons. Or at least, that’s what I say. And yet, the soundtrack played on as we exchanges messages about the state of the world and the randomness of life. And thankfully, the music more than lives up to the kindness shown by Mr. Collier.
Recently, I’ve had the chance to spend time with the recent singles from UK artist Matt Adey. Matt first came to the attention of the general public when a track was picked up by DJ Armin Van Buuren and included on a compilation, remixed by Simon Patterson. The new tracks don’t go down a dance path – instead, they hue close to the singer / songwriter genre, as filtered through a Britpop sensibility. Production is being overseen by Chris Potter – known for his work with The Verve and Richard Ashcroft. These songs are simply stunning and whet the listener’s appetite for more. Matt and his team have a unique roll out strategy for the album – a track at a time until the album in full is available down the road (expected in 2020). So, this write up is based on the singles released thus far. And based on those tracks, Matt Adey is a name to watch in the music realm.
Broken Wing has an uplifting introduction with subtle, New Wave synth. Vocally, Matt starts off crooning, which allows the chorus to soar when he gives full throated delivery. Lyrically, the song talks about not being dragged down and moving forward. “You are not your broken wing” is a memorable chorus with a hook that’ll have you singing along. In a Different World has an Echo & the Bunnymen vibe that I found quite alluring. Again, Matt is speaking to matters of the heart in a truly inspiring way. The production allows each instrument space and the way the vocals are layered makes an impact. Fantastic stuff. “Goodbye / Goodbye my love…”. You guessed it; you’ll be singing that refrain after a few spins. Love Is Not a Game carries on with the high quality of offerings, an alternative pop hit in a perfect world. Dare I say, The Beatles came to mind during the la la la lead up to the chorus. Killer tune. I’m not 100% sure if The Girl I Should Have Loved is going to be on Love and Deeper Cuts, but it was a song I kept returning to as I listened to everything I could get my hands on by Matt Adey. It is a slower song than the others with some inspired piano playing. A ballad to offset the other tunes. The last minute or so of the song has impassioned singing, soaring strings, and lyrics seeped in despair.
You can follow Matt Adey here. The tracks are all out now, streaming on all the major services. I’m looking forward to the forthcoming full length based on the strength of these song. Highly recommended.
Verdict: Singles Going Steady
For Fans of: Echo & the Bunnymen, The Church, The Psychedelic Furs, Tears for Fears
In another life, I would find myself in various US cities all across the country for short intervals. One of the pleasures I took with that was picking out the music appropriate for the locale. And so, in the summer of 2005, I found myself driving around Chicago, IL blasting Come On Feel the Illinoise by Sufjan Stevens. For a geek like me, this was absolutely thrilling. The final album in his States albums, it spoke to me on a visceral level. In fact, I’ve long gravitated towards the acoustic based albums by Sufjan Stevens while admiring / not loving his more experimental albums. In fact, 2015’s Carrie and Lowell was easily my favorite release of his – acoustic, personal, masterful. How would he ever follow that album up?
Discounting his collaboration albums, 2020’s The Ascension is the 1st true full-length solo follow up. And it does a neat trick – it rewrites the rules a bit. It sounds NOTHING like his acoustic based albums. But it doesn’t really sound like his experimental albums either. We have an album that shares a remarkable amount of characteristics with Kanye West’s 808 & Heartbreak. Say what you will about Kanye, but that album is a masterpiece in my opinion. And here we have Sufjan Stevens employing his own electronic soundscapes, imbued with a sadness that is disarming. This is an album length anthem for 2020. I would dub it “downbeat anti-gospel music”. And it is (almost) perfection.