Boduf Songs: How Shadows Chase the Balance

How Shadows Chase the Balance, Mathew Sweet's sophomore full-length release, presents eight new folk dirges and death marches, all of them as sparsely arranged and haunting as the ones constituting 2006's Lion Devours the Sun. Recorded in his bedroom at night (to minimize the intrusion of neighborhood background noise) using a single microphone, Sweet strips his sound to its bones: acoustic guitar, banjo, mandolin, a few additional instruments (glockenspiel, percussion), a smattering of field recording touches, and, clearly the most distinctive feature, his voice, which is typically heard as a brooding murmur that whispers into your ear in the dead of night (the lyric “While we were sleeping / lost in a dream” succinctly encapsulates the experience of listening to the album). The sound is not as skeletal as such a description might suggest, however. In “I Can't See a Thing in Here” and “Last Glimmer on a Hill at Dusk,” Sweet considerably beefs up the sound by adding bass and drum accompaniment, even if understatedly.

In keeping with the charcoal black cover image, darkness engulfs the listener on sonic terms too while, lyrically, themes of death, disorientation, fragmentation, and collapse exert a stranglehold on the material (song titles like “Pitiful Shadow Engulfed in Darkness” reinforce the tragic tone, as do lyrics like “Don't forget to fall apart / don't forget to come undone”). Characteristic of the general mood, the rhythm of the opener “Mission Creep” is a funereal crawl punctuated for dramatic effect by cymbal and drum rolls and overlaid by the troubadour's gothic intonation “All of my heroes / died the same day…Swinging from nooses / wrists open wide.” The album's mood isn't wholly oppressive and downtrodden: the bright weave of banjo and mandolin lifts the mood of “Things Not To Be Done On the Sabbath” and sliver of light from atmospheric guitar swells pierce the cracks of the haunting “Found on the Bodies of Fallen Whales.”

Simply put, if you cottoned to the debut album, you'll find this one as satisfying; calling it Lion Devours the Sun Part 2 wouldn't be too far off the mark. Which also suggests that if there's one thing Sweet might want to consider for future recordings, it's varying the template a bit more. Though his approach is effective, it's also concentrated on a single style that runs the risk of becoming too limiting if not expanded upon.

October 2008