Thursday, November 01, 2007

Matthew Sweet shines on Songs from the Bigtop

It's been a while since Matthew Sweet, one of my very favorite singer-songwriters, made me really smile. His last few projects - toothless folk collaboration The Thorns, the bloated, hook-deficient Living Things, his head-scratching covers album with Susanna Hoffs that did nothing for some hard-to-screw-up tunes - added up to a serious fallow period, if not the end of the line.

Yet here he is on the soundtrack to Devon Reed's upcoming film The Bigtop, and on "Wild" he sounds like good old Matthew - in fact, the especially warm, upbeat Matthew undercut with just a hint of darkness, not too evident since his early synth-based 80s records, and only occasionally showing up on b-sides and unreleased demos since. All the songs on the comp were written by Reed and supposedly assigned to his impressive list of indie friends based on who fit which song the best, and especially in this case he chose wisely. A devoted Sweet fanatic hearing this song without any other info would never guess it was a cover. (You can hear the Sweet song via Stereogum).

When I can get past "Wild" on repeat, there's plenty more to like on the album. Tullycraft's "The Girl Who's Above Us" is winsome indie-pop at its most lovable, short and sweet, anchored with warm organ lines. Lisa Germano is reliably spectral in opener "Magic", and Built to Spill's Doug Martsch gets a chance to show way more vulnerability than usual, and pulls it off with grace.

Damien Jurado, the Clientele, Howe Gelb...this Devon Reed is a friend and champion of some of the best songwriter-indie that blossomed in the 90s, and Songs from the Bigtop is a great way to reconnect with these folks, underappreciated then and now. They share a keen sense for human-scale melancholy pop that gives the disc its consistent warmth and charm.

It's available now via iTunes and on CD.