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Matthew E. White: Fresh Blood

“Fresh Blood” is decent with some brilliant moments, but White is capable of much more.

Matthew E. White’s 2012 debut, Big Inner is an absolute masterwork. Brilliant, exquisitely arranged, and full of ecstatic swells and moody ebbs; it is one of my favorite albums of the last few years. That’s why it’s a bit disappointing that his follow-up, Fresh Blood, is merely “pretty good.”

There’s just something missing here. Those ecstatic breaks are largely absent, except on the buoyant “Feeling Good is Good Enough,” which breaks into a rollicking, piano-driven “Hey Jude” moment in its final few minutes. “Vision” is also another impeccable song, proving that White still has an incredibly perceptive eye for complicated arrangements that, for the most part, are never overwrought or fussy.

There are still lots of pianos, hushed vocals, gospel-tinged backing vocals, strings, and nervous drumming, but this is a more subdued effort–even meandering and listless in places. Some songs devolve into bad blue-eyed soul, a la Hall & Oates and “Tranquility” and “Golden Robes” settle into 70s soft-rock and never really take off. “Circle ‘Round the Sun,” however, demonstrates White’s knack for writing lovely, even sexy, ballads with simple, sometimes ambiguous lyrics. The best song though is “Rock & Roll is Cold.” It’s an absolute delight and the catchiest song I’ve heard in 2015.

White has always had a nimble approach to genre, moving in and out between chamber pop, soul, psychedelia, folk, and 70s pop. Those influences all coalesced brilliantly on Big Inner. On this new effort, however, White needs more of a push, more fire, and a little more bite. “Fresh Blood” is decent with some brilliant moments, but White is capable of much more.

Recommended If You Like: 70s pop and singer/songwriters, Jonathan Wilson, Randy Newman, blue-eyed soul

Recommended Tracks: “Rock & Roll is Cold,” “Feeling Good Is Good Enough,” “Vision,” and “Take Care My Baby”

Reviewed by Vince Meserko on March 8, 2015