by Adrian Gandara
Matthew Squires is preaching little sermons in the language of the people: pop music. The recordings of this singer-songwriter (and “attempted (mostly-failed) mystic,” according to his Facebook page) have always had some pop sensibilities. Now, on his latest album, Tambaleo, he mostly abandons his earlier experimental and lo-fi leanings and goes full-tilt toward pop.
On lead single “Shape of Your Heart,” the instruments and songwriting come together with the tight sound of a band that’s notched plenty of bar gigs on its belt. You could soundtrack a party with tracks like “Debt Song” and “Unwholesome Health,” even though one is about the Armageddon and the other talks about counseling Judas Iscariot over the phone. The songs on this album are focused, purposeful, and well-planned and executed.
At the center of everything are Squires’ lyrics: poetic, sermon-like and often heavy on religious imagery. His words are a mixture of Bible pages, Eastern philosophies and whatever else is going on inside his head. What comes out are lines like “You were born and you have died/A hundred million times before/You are all there is/You are everyone you’ve met/Welcome Matthew,/You were named after a friend/Of the Son of God.” On “Shining,” he hears the voice of God like Elvis, telling Squires “You are a hound dog/And your fur is stained with wine.” On “Bird Song,” he sings about failure, death, God and honor being mere feathers on a cosmic bird. “And when we spot her/We will feel so very small/But the arms of grace/Which we’ll embrace/Will not be so small,” he says.
Squires’ music is full of big themes from a small man on some path to some enlightenment. Despite how this sounds, Tambaleo isn’t heavy. It can be moody, contemplative, sad in some places, but it can also be fun, catchy, quirky, a little anthemic, like Squires belting out “Welcome home, dear/You’re not alone here” on “Sex & Tragedy.”
Tambaleo looks like the conclusion of a journey for Matthew Squires. He’s taken the pop route to its natural end on this album, and now he’s looking to take his sound somewhere new. “I’ve been wanting to step away from that more poppy kind of thing for a while, as I feel I’ve sufficiently carved out my little fingerprint with that approach,” Squires wrote in a Facebook post. “I’m going to try and explore other ways to dress up my songs that are a bit more intimate and subtle in their approach.” On closing track “The Living Goes,” everything is stripped down to the strings, a line on an acoustic guitar and Squires musing about the afterlife, “No one knows/Where the living goes/When the living goes away.” It’s sparse and quiet, offering a hint of which way the songwriter might be headed. But it’s more reminiscent of his earlier work. Really, there’s no telling where Squires goes from here. His songcraft is more mature than ever. He has the tools to take his lyrical messages in any direction. On his road to enlightenment, it’s anyone’s guess where we’ll hear from him next, and what the message might sound like by then.
Adrian Gandara is a writer and photographer who has edited for the Short Horn and other publications. Follow him on Twitter at @adrun_thephotog