Yester-d: "You Can't Tame a Wild Rabbit" by Matthew and the Arrogant Sea
“Trip” is an over-used word. You might stumble, or you might travel, or you may sit still and eat some sound, but none of these events have done justice to the word. And the sidecar it takes to the genre of “psychedelic music” is a further adolescence.
Having said that, “You Can’t Tame A Wild Rabbit” by Matthew and the Arrogant Sea (MATAS) is a psychedelic album. I hesitate to compare it to Sgt. Pepper, because it lacks the linear narrative, and I shy from an obvious (and over-pollinated) Flaming Lips comparison as well—though Matthew Gray and Wayne Coyne could easily share the pilot seats of the finest of Bespin Twin Cloud Cars.
At its heart, his album is organic. In spite of being swaddled in sweeping melodies and caramel choruses, the electric parts of it are caressing and supporting, and on the whole it comes across as a friendlier Modest Mouse, free from the restraints of having burned down the kitchen to make the cake.
There may be a narrative running through the composition and connections of the songs, but I don’t care. When I listen to it, it’s as sequential as a cookbook, at best.
In the grand tradition-speak of the glorious 90’s, were I sitting across from Cody Robinson and a half-dozen empty Bulleit shots at Dan’s, I would call this “mermaidcore.”
To wit: The opener, “Jack Russell Kilt” starts in an island swirl, but not postcard-wise, more drink menu-esque. With lines like ‘sometimes the daylight brings me down/sometimes I wish you were around,’ the stage is set for the waves to crash. But Matthew Gray don’t surf.
“At the Wheel Fighting Elvis Pt 1.” calls up a kiss or two from Ancient Indy Darling Julianna Hatfield, but with even more of a nod to later R.E.M.
The next pair of tunes ramp up the psychedelia, but with a calm groove before the album moves straightaway into MATAS’ Cortez-y (and quite Centro-Matic-flavoured) “Hard Times.” A beautiful, rolling, drum-hearted song, the likes of which you’d not go through the drive-thru yet with, to avoid having to turn it down. Here, the guitar is strong and as jangly as Matthew Sweet’s keychain, tugging at us with the plaintive harmonies of an astronaut who may have once been a priest.
“Vodka Jag” brings us back to the shoreline. While the words begin to flower-up, the lullaby horn weaving around the tail of it as the words roll out soon turns this into a romantic background stroll, or a fine, fine commercial bed for porch furniture.
But! “When Sally Met the Ghost” brings the biggest Mouse shadow—and not a bad thing. We need to hear that we were “rallying for freedom/without knowing the song.” And the aortic-punch of “you didn’t believe in Heaven/so where did you go?” brings us even more to ground. These are not rambling songs, none of them. MATAS is telling us that everything may be beautiful but it can still fucking hurt.
Speaking of, “Suicide Boat Ride” not only has the most stark title on the sheet, but it rides in as the darkest George Harrison-inspired song, telling us “Fuck Love” (literally), on top of a stoned waltz that is muttering “I’m ready for spring” under its breath. And we listen. This is MATAS’s “Slugworth,” and if you don’t catch that reference, go Google one of the finest songs to ever roll out of little d. Ever.
Three songs left in the album, and you may be tempted to start all over, crushing the velvet before you reach the end of the drapes just to keep the feel of it. Don’t.
The summer hymn of “Kingdom Soapbox” drives in MATAS’ purpose with hard paisley lyrics like, "My door’s a white balloon," straight into "I challenge you to be willow"− lyrics which on their own seem a bit carbon copy psychedelia, but strung together make a fine writ.
And MATAS inevitably brings the Bowie in “My Science Fiction Daydream,” but it’s a backyard sleepover Bowie, and the Pixies are making the s’mores. And the band continues to Stardustus as they close with “The Magic Christian’s Lament,” but this time, Sir Paul McCartney is dressed as Major Tom and the driving drums and lead piano ID the call as coming from not Ground Control, but the Battlestar Galactica.
This is a fine album, and MATAS continues to cruise along, but you may have missed this one. If you are a fan of crisp guitar and melody-driven ear candy, I can promise you that the only cavities you’ll come away with are the new ones you see in the moon.