Eric Matthews Foundation Sounds

Eric Matthews has never made any attempt to hide his classical training, and it has served him very well. His ear for arrangement made his early work in Cardinal a joy to listen to, while his two albums for Sub-Pop in the mid-’90s helped revive interest in orchestrated pop music. His latest album, Foundation Sounds, might represent a lofty concept in Matthews’s mind of recording rock and pop music without any of the typical instruments and using symphonic elements instead, but it really isn’t hugely different from anything he has done in the past. Still, it represents a real return to form simply because his songwriting skills are better than they’ve ever been before. He continues to develop as an artist, recording practically all the music by himself and his characteristic, effortless vocals still put him in a class of his own. It is tempting to say that Foundation Sounds is the finest record that Matthews has been involved with since Cardinal were around, but like so many of the projects that he has been part of, there is a caveat. Just as Six Kinds of Passion Looking for an Exit was frustratingly short, Foundation Sounds is frustratingly long. Maybe it is due to the richness of the material, but it is hard to listen to all 17 songs and 70 minutes at once, yet it is a hard album to delve into because one song simply isn’t enough. (Empyrean)