Burnt up on Re-entry (Southern Records) is Mathew Sweet’s fifth album as Boduf Songs since 2005. Where the earlier works were primarily acoustic, Burnt Up is more musically adventurous, Sweet’s mordant lyrics being offset by lo-fi, alt. rock instrumentation and experimental sound processing.
Fiery The Angels Fell opens with a sardonic lyric that seems to conflate—with mystifying tastelessness—the lyric of an 80s disco hit with our collective memory of 9/11’s falling men and women: “It’s raining men / Hallelujah / They jumped from roofs / Bodies pop upon the ground / We built…a monument to the massacre.” Musically, it’s on firmer terrain, actually more direct and familiar than anything else here: a darkling riposte, perhaps to the gleaming postrocks of Tortoise or Battles (Sweet essays his own more direct take on postrock with Four Man Ghost).
The intro to “A Brilliant Shaft Of Light From Out Of The Night Sky” sounds like shoegaze retooled for xylophone and electronics, and the acoustic strum and cymbal patter of the rather beautiful “Song To Keep Me Still” is also reminiscent of shoegaze until the whorl of an organ kicks in. (You should take the various comparisons I’ll make with a pinch of salt; you might not make the same connections.)
The chorus of “Song To Keep Me Still”—”Swing Low, sweet satellite / Coming for to carry us home”—puts a twist on borrowed emotions. Sweet backs the lyric with sensitive strumming and synthesised string swells, but the charge of suspended yearning is distressed by screechy electronics.
The occasional use of synthetic percussion is reliably effective: “Vermin, Rend Thy Garments” is founded on looped samples and metronomic electronic beats, something like a stripped-down Kid A methodology. The mood here, as throughout, is one of disquiet. Whereas a band like Radiohead reaches out, Boduf Songs is focused on psychodynamics.
“Everyone Will Let You Down In The End” begins with Sweet alone, double-tracked on a maudlin, open string soliloquy. But the track opens up in stages, first with wiry electric guitar worming into the soundfield, then impacted by hammer-blow kit drumming, and finally exploded by grinding riffage. Creative sequencing follows through with the drum machine pulses and brightly reverberant keys of “Long Divider”, a song that highlights the breathy, almost-spoken word intimacy of the vocal.
“Drexelius Sick Man Quarles Emblemes Closed Heaven” is constructed from vérité ambience, cheap machine pulse, and vocodered vox. It doesn’t really go anywhere, but it’s my best excuse to invoke the one (albeit indirect) comparison I can’t avoid, the one with Matt Elliott’s Third Eye Foundation, and his sparer post-Third Eye work. Both projects open windows into grainy, sepia-tinted interiorities.
As Burnt up on Re-entry progresses, the more diverse any associations become. “Between The Palisades And The Firmament” unfurls along motoric, psych rock grooves; “Maggot Ending” is a pretty track that chimes tonally with the alt. Americana of, say, Papa M or David Grubbs; “Oh My Overlord” is a coda of atmospheric brevity spliced from communications pulses, attenuated electronics and hazily scanned voices; it could be an early Scanner outtake (witness: Spore).
Shoegaze, Scanner, Third Eye Foundation, … Boduf Songs would’ve chimed nicely with mid-90s Isolationism, and it’s good to re-sample that particular aesthetic in such diverse and original ways. Though the texture of this album is uniformly shadowy, each song has its own palette of dark hues, and there’s plenty of depth and richness to Boduf Songs; plenty to hook you in, before you start to grapple with its lyrical obliquities.
David Grubbs – The Plain where the Palace Stood