There’s blues to spare on the latest effort from The Suitcase Junket, though one-man band Matt Lorenz doesn’t go in for the traditional 12-bar form. The album opens with the upbeat folk-rock vibe of “High Beams.” But “Heart of a Dog” digs into elemental blues before swooping to a primal scream, while the epic “Stay Too Long” suggests a low-tech Led Zeppelin filtered through early Beck.
Yet both songs are about devotion, not loss. In fact there’s an overall positive vibe to the album, with its fuzzed-out guitars and mostly laid-back tempos. It’s a nice evolution from his earlier work, both musically and thematically.
The angst-ridden heartland pop-rock of “Everything I Like” sounds like it emerges from a slightly diseased liver instead of a heart; imagine John Mellencamp singing from a sewer. But the noise and ache that stream through these songs belie – and support – literate and often poetic lyrics. “Everything I Like” paints a striking nostalgic picture of a youthful relationship: “and he was living up inside his head / with the vision of a front porch / and laundry on the line. / but then the sun’d go down / and the neon lights, well, / they’d flicker for a minute / and they’d both start living in the sound / of that jukebox superhero / hoping he’s gonna spin it.”
The power ballad “Gods of Sleep” contrasts with the soulful force of the Bowie-esque “Son of Steven” with its sneaky synthesizer solo and echoes of “Be My Baby.” Acoustic folk strains define “Dreamless Life,” “Scattered Notes from a First Time Home Buyers Workshop,” and the plaintive “Old Machine” whose humble melody frames a lyric about the process of, and reasons for, distilling one’s art: “oh moonshine / can you tune up the inner workings of my heart? / can you burn off the tar and loosen up the parts that oughta move?”
One result of the distorted, faraway production that carries through much the album is a timeless quality. Boosting that as well are Lorenz’s strong, versatile vocals. He switches easily from the bright clarity of “High Beams” to bluesy growls, and from soulful shouts to the scratchy quivers he brings to the verses of the folk-rock-Americana tune “Dandelion Crown.”
The latter (see video below) is in pure songwriting terms one of the best tracks on an album full of good writing. Lorenz’s songcraft may have gotten a little more mainstream since 2014’s Make Time, but his versatility has expanded and his individual style hasn’t lost any of its distinctive definition. And though he tends to slur the words, with this album he cements his status as one of the great lyricists of our day. As the singer of “Everything I Like” says about a three-and-a-half-minute song: “it makes you feel all sick and strong for singing.” So it does.
Mean Dog, Trampoline from The Suitcase Junket is available for pre-order now.