When an artist releases a self-titled album (particularly when it isn’t the debut), it’s assumed the artist is making a musical identity statement: “This is who I am.” But I have to be honest: when listening to Matt Costa’s self-titled fourth album, I’m scratching my head trying to figure out who he is, exactly.
It isn’t that there aren’t good songs on the album, because there are some brilliant ones, in fact. It isn’t that the overall production value isn’t good, because it is. Plenty of ear candy here. The problem for me is that style-wise and thematically, it seems to be all over the board.
Here’s an example: a big deal has been made of the fact that Matt Costa traveled to Scotland to record this album, and about the mystical feel that the record is supposed to have. But…let’s just say that in Costa’s case, you might take the boy out of the California coast, but apparently you can’t take the California coast out of the boy. Aside from a haunting bit of reverb (which could happen anywhere), you have to get about seven tracks in before the record even begins to sound like there’s a Celtic or folky influence. I listen to songs like “Loving You” and “Good Times,” and I don’t picture dark fog, grey castles or scenic cliffs; I picture sunny beaches. Just saying. When you get down to tracks like “Laura Lee,” “Silver Sea” and “Ophelia,” you can definitely hear a shift in the tone of the record that makes you believe he actually recorded it in Scotland, or that he was influenced by his surroundings at all.
There’s also the issue of genre. Costa is a singer/songwriter with a neo-folk vibe, and in fact he supposedly set out to do a “stripped down” set of songs in Scotland. Instead, with all the retro horn arrangements (especially in the early tunes), you get the feeling you’re listening to pop music from the 60’s and 70’s. Like Costa didn’t just travel to Scotland, but also traveled back in time. He eventually finds his way, but I get the feeling that this would have been a much more focused record had Matt Costa stayed the course, instead of letting things get too big.
Basically, what I’m hearing here is not one album, but two EPs. The first six tracks or so are the confusing part of the record, with across the board arrangements and a collection of songs that musically don’t seem to fit well together. The second half—that’s where things get interesting. Haunting, folky tunes like “Laura Lee” and “Silver Sea” definitely sound not only appropriate to the record, but give us the impression that Costa himself is maturing. The closing track “Golden Cathedrals” (fourth from the last track if you have the Deluxe Version) is a masterpiece, and almost worth buying the album to get (if we didn’t live in an age of hand-picked downloads, that is). I could definitely see this one showing up in movie soundtracks and the like.
I know I’ve come down a bit hard on this record in spots, but the reality is that there is enough to like about Matt Costa (the album) that make this worth a listen. You’ve probably figured out that I like the second part of the record much more than the first, and the best is saved for last. It just feels like it took Costa the entire record to find himself. But if the record is a journey in itself, he reaches his destination at the end.