Sunday, December 22, 2013

Album Review: "You Are Everything or: The Art of Being Nothing in Particular" by Matthew Squires and the Learning Disorders

Matthew Squires and The Learning Disorders hail from Austin, Texas. On A Song For a Future Phoenix from their second album You Are Everything or The Art of Being Nothing In Particular, he sings: Child, don't dream of a world you can't see, rather, inspect the one that you;re in.... shouting,"I stand alone on the Earth we call home looking for a God I can trust." and on the chorus: "But to be a phoenix, you first must become ash. And that fire's been lit, so stop trying to clutch the past, my friend." Like many of the songs on this album, the song bounces merrily along with a winking vocal performance. It almost reminds me of the cheeky Brit style of some early Kinks songs. As the music bops like indie pop, the lyrics are poetically sounds and actually say something.

These songs are smart and cleverly crafted comments about us. Sometimes Matthew turns phrases into sharp edged salt to rub into society's collective wounded soul. In Lovesick Lullaby, he sings: "And I would not say I'm wise. I've just seen with my two eyes stronger swimmers than you drowning in Heineken."  and later: "And I cannot think of one thing beyond celebrity-gossip magazines and a sense of unending hunger that unites this nation." It is not all sharp reflections in the the mirror. In Claim Your Birthright amidst a spartan piano he tosses in obtuse lyrics sung in a disjointed way as a woman's voice sings the refrain, "my stomach is swelling up" but it ultimately sounds kind of beautiful and inspirational (albeit in a sad way).

The third track, The Turnings of the Earth (and Other Observations) probably has the most upbeat feel but the message can still feel dour to me. Full of self revelations, the first lyrics may be the albums touchstone, "This whole god dam world is a mirror. I tried my best to turn away from it. I was ashamed of it, I guess." Pain seems to be exorcised amidst the bright guitars, jagged composition and "ooohs and aaaahs" ending with the line "If there's one thing I've learned, it's that Earth just turns for itself."

"You Are Everything or The Art of Being Nothing In Particular" is a heavy weight of music. It is not the type of album you would put on in the car as you head out for a Sunday drive with the family especially if you are traversing mountain roads and especially if you have any suicidal tendencies. Matthew Squires is an adept songwriter whose musical wit is sharp maybe sometimes too sharp. I must say that I am not sure if I feel I know him any better from this album except that the world is pretty fucked up and I already know this. Two songs that do feel like they have seeds of hope amidst the inner turmoil are We Are Donkeys and An Ancient Voice. Both are thoroughly moving and beautifully carry words that pull back the twinges of smart sarcasm and replace it with pure complex emotion. In the end, this album carries for me a bit of frustration but ultimately wins me over. I hope you dive into it's dark inkwell.

Robb Donker

You can stream the entire album here

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