Matt Suggs

Golden Days Before They End

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    9
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At first or second listen, this sounds unnervingly like a solo album that Ray Davies might have made circa the early 1970s. There's that same witty melodicism, and a similar resigned yet bemused air to Suggs' vocal delivery. It manages, though, not to sound like an inferior rewrite of Kinks cliches, and upon closer inspection, reveals Suggs to be more his own man than might initially be suspected. Suggs favors far more abstract lyrics, for one thing, imbued with rather creepy images of vultures, skeletons, and dreamy disorientation. In addition, the music is more speckled with Americana than what Davies and the Kinks played, as heard on the enchanting minor-keyed mandolin strums and desert guide slide that anchor "The Rambler Vs. the Vulture/Devils Dance," managing to strike a mood between Appalachia and Tex-Mex balladry. Like few other ambitious musicians, singer-songwriter-identified and otherwise, working in indie rock circa 2000, Suggs knows how to use understatement instead of trying too hard or opting for an in-your-face approach. On pure musical terms this album merits high praise indeed, with an attention to detail and variety -- tinkly off-kilter pianos, judicious use of lap steel and bells (both played by Suggs), a surfeit of melancholy hooks -- that brings out the best in the songs. That really helps when the lyrics are so enigmatic as to often defy interpretation ("Farewell to a Tightrope Queen" is an exception). Yet Suggs' words are effective in establishing a sense of loss and bewilderment tinged with the surreal, retaining a subtle humor and grace that never descends into mopiness, and that's quite an accomplishment.

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