That -- the title of this post. I'd added that to an e-mail I sent to my editor over at the New Haven Advocate, Dave Reidel. He'd panned the new M.T. Bearington album, Cloak of Nouns and Loss (Safety Meeting Records). I disagreed. (I'd actually gushed over it in the same issue of the paper, just a page or two away. A multiplicity of voices makes the paper more authoritative, after all!) I've been following Matt Thomas' work since I was in college and he was in Weigh Down (then The Weigh Down), and Matt's done the sort of thing I love to see artists do: He's grown creatively, steadily over time; each time it appears he's peaked, he tops himself with the next release.
That said, Matt's work is polarizing, and I recognize how it can be. A number of times over the past several years, while discussing Matt's music, the person I'm speaking with has said something to the effect of, "I just can't deal with his voice, though." I even wrote about this effect Matt's voice has, in a "Music Notes" column in the Advocate perhaps three years ago. I can understand. The things I love about Matt's voice -- its impassioned quaver, its unusual balance of frequencies that can make it sound muffled even when he's belting it out with all he has, its haunted vulnerability -- are the things that set some people on edge. And I haven't been fully behind him the whole time. When The Weigh Down were the toast of the town, or at least of the indie rock part of it, about six or seven years ago, I thought they were musically very solid and right with the moody, contemplative part of the indie zeitgeist, but I felt they needed a kick in the pants to elevate them beyond the level of "promising local band." Weigh Down really grabbed me when they dropped the "The" and reinvented themselves as this post-psychedelic, id-baiting kind of outfit. When the beautiful and high-stakes-sounding Welcome to the Family Zoo finally dropped on Safety Meeting last year, over two years after it'd been completed, it became one of my favorite records of 2007, period.
Then M.T. Bearington & the Bearington Band happened. Matt completed Cloak, his home-recorded -- mostly self-recorded -- album and assembled a crack band to open a Mates of State show at Toad's Place. What a way to preview a record -- it was primal, foreign but familiar, full of layers of melody and rich vocal harmonies, full-on, psychedelic, poppy, transcendent. Sure, Family Zoo was transcendent, but this was some next-level stuff. I tracked down Matt after the set. "I knew you were good," I said, "but I didn't realize you were a genius!" I said it 'cause I meant it, dammit.
Cloak had its CD release show on Sunday (Sept. 14) at BAR, and it's hard to say whether that show reached the highs of the show at Toad's some months ago, if only because of the sheer surprise that show offered, the excitement of seeing Matt's long-spoken-about solo project manifest itself as... this. There have been some lineup changes to the band, and it's still an excellent one, including current and former members of The Alternate Routes, Mountain Movers, Hotel and Pencilgrass. At its best, the band was breathtaking, and while Matt seemed perhaps more reserved than at the Toad's show, he also seemed more comfortable. The set felt most transportive when Matt gave the impression he was riding some frightening, weird wave created by the band around him.
Begushkin opened the show. They've come through town before, but I've missed them. They're part of the Locust Music family, an association that's made me wary -- one doesn't know what to expect, but it seems, with the Locust bookings Rick Omonte's had at BAR, I should be prepared for loose noise or psych-folk drones in D. There are nights when I want that and nights when I don't, and Sunday was one of those nights when I didn't. Gladly for me at that particular moment, Begushkin surprised me. They played largely minor-key, haunting sounds, vaguely Eastern European at many points. Someone standing close to me remarked they sounded like Tetris music. Personally, I'm happy when I can hear a band getting away from pentatonic scales in a highly melodic fashion.