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Before leaping directly into my review of Avalanche, I want to add a quick word about how I first started listening to Matt Good. It started in the Spring of 2001 when Beautiful Midnight, Matthew Good Band's second album, was finally released in America to a quiet reception. Despite a quick tour of the US at the time, Good was not catching on here as well as he had in Canada. Randomly one afternoon, though, I was watching College Television Network (damn CTN, I miss you already...<sniff, sniff>) and caught the final minute or so of "Hello Time Bomb," their first single here. Despite missing most of the song, it sounded good from what I could hear and I immediately went online to download it. After gradually falling in love with that song and the few others I downloaded, I soon bought the US album and listened to it more than I can remember. By the end of the summer, I had picked up all of MGB's remaining albums, including their EP Loser Anthems and even the Canadian version of Beautiful Midnight (mmm...three different songs...) I try to spread the Matt Good love as much as I can (such as what I'm doing right now) and he will continue to draw much money out of me (hell, I even bought his book last year despite never really reading it). Definitely at some point in the next year I'll be making the trip up to Canada just to see him in concert at last.
I bring this up for one particular reason. None of it would have been possible without online file sharing. Many musicians are outspoken in their dislike for Kazaa and similar services, feeling it akin to money being taken right out of their pockets. While I can understand the economic frustration of seeing hard work available for free, simply put, the benefits can be just as numerous as the possible problems. With MTV and the radio playing the same songs over and over again, it's refreshing to really get into something that isn't getting a lot of airplay. MP3s allow for this to happen. My feeling is that many of the people downloading and burning CDs would not be buying those CDs anyway if unable to get them on MP3. What happens when people burn CDs, though, is that the music continues to get spread around. Maybe the person that burned the CD will fall in love with it and decide to see the band in concert, or buy their DVD, or just buy the damn CD. Or maybe they'll lend it to a friend and they'll do one of those things. The permutations are endless and the future is not as bleak as Lars Ulrich might have you believe. Matt Good has got a huge amount of money and support from me in the past two years and I would never remember his name today if I hadn't turned on my favorite file sharing service to download his song back then. But are these downloads affecting bigger, more popular bands who have no need for extensive word-of-mouth? Ask Linkin Park (a huge presense on Kazaa), who has already made a mint with Meteora...even ask Metallica at the end of the Summer Sanitarium Tour while they're swimming in their bath of new tour and CD money and see if they think file sharing has really adversely affected them.
It's easy to be afraid of new technology because of what it is: new. The record companies and popular money-making bands don't want change, they want the status quo and the status quo has no place for file sharing online. Attempting to deny this technology is only forestalling the future. A nice fight was put up against Napster and it died. But now Kazaa and Morpheus have taken its place and are even stronger for it (and more legally safe). Instead of clinging to the sinking ship, the record companies need to realize that this is the perfect time to reevaluate "business as usual." The current system that puts endless dollars in record companies coffers while giving pittances to the artists needs to be ended. The musicians need to realize that the problem is not the technology, but their contracts and record deals. These will not be easy changes for the industry and the bigger companies will have to be dragged kicking and screaming, but there's no point in remaining with our heads in the sand when technology is progressing whether we like it or not.
<phew> Now that I got that off my chest, without any further delay, here is my review of Avalanche.
Throwing aside the shackles of Matthew Good Band, Good triumphantly returns with his first solo effort, a stunning departure that ties his impeccable song-writing skills with an epic new symphonic musical direction. Layers of strings, bells, and backup singers feature prominently in many songs, often next to the same great guitar work and vocal range Good has been featuring for years. Feeling liberated after the demise of his previous band, Good uses this album to explore his personal interests in music, creating an album that sounds markedly different from most others out now while still remaining thoroughly accessible.
Good's changing musical perspective is clear right from the opening track. Eschewing the bombast of "Giant" and "Man of Action" (the opening tracks of his previous two albums), Good starts on a more subdued note with "Pledge of Allegiance." A surprisingly personal song featuring only muted guitars, drums, a keyboard hum, bells, and a few backup singers, Good addresses his fans in the aftermath of the MGB breakup, "This is a rehearsal of incoherent double talk and maybes / And it won't let you down / Done letting you down." Perhaps the man who once sold MGB shirts reading "I hear Matt Good's a real asshole" is calming down, a message to fans frustrated by the endless internal quarreling that dominated the last days of his old band (and kept the brilliant Audio of Being from receiving enough attention). And, perhaps the more telling statement is later in the song, "It's okay to be my disappointment baby / It's okay to fly the flag."
However, the quiet atmosphere disappears quickly with "Lullaby for the New World Order". The grandiose strings that propel the song along (and that are also featured in "Weapon", "In A World Called Catastrophe", among others) are a new addition to the Good repetoire and work fantastically, giving a dramatic lift to the album as a whole. Good has always had a inclination towards the dramatic in his performances (especially after improving his vocal range while recording Audio of Being) and his new symphonic approach fits perfectly. There are not many bands out there today that would take a risk such as this and Good should be rewarded for succeeding so admirably.
A major highlight, though, comes in the middle of the CD with the sprawling and beautiful "While We Were Hunting Rabbits". Clocking in at an even eight minutes, the song perfectly exemplifies Good's new musical direction. His lyrics shine (continuing the improvement in his writing skills that could already be seen in his last record): "While we were hunting rabbits / I came upon a clear / The sky its stars like fortune drilled me / Until now I was a soldier / Until now I dealt in fear / These years of cloak and dagger / Have left us disappeared." Acoustic guitar, drums, strings, and piano drive the song along for the first minutes, building up energy until Good unleashes a phalanx of background singers (likely recorded in the studio, but mixed to sound as if they were at a concert, complete with cheers and applause). With the huge crowd behind him, Good repeats, "And we dance and we sing / And we're all monkeys in a long line / I'm just a boat on the ocean / And I'm just a ship lost at sea." The effect is wonderful and still gives me chills to this day. Ending with two minutes of strings, "Rabbits" is a cathartic, emotional work that should go down as one of Good's finest moments yet.
Highlights of the CD are too numerous to mention all of them, but include "20th Century Living," Good's novelty song featuring a rocking and catchy chorus and "Double Life," one of the few conventional (but still excellent) rock songs on the album. Anyone who calls themselves a fan of rock music owes it to themselves to at least give a cursory listen to the album. Good is one of the best rock musicians out now and deserves more attention than he's been getting in America. With so much Repetition Rock flooding the airwaves, let's hold a candle for the bands willing to take a risk.
Note: unfortunately, no US release is scheduled for Avalanche yet, but copies of the album can be bought cheaply from Matt's official web site and, of course, his songs may be found on your favorite file sharing service if you want to give him a try. Just remember that they sound even better when coming out of a nicely mastered CD. ;-)