The latest album from Canadian institution Matthew Good is the sound of things falling apart. Politically, personally, and psychologically. Something Like a Storm is coated in an uneasy veneer of normalcy teeming with hairline fractures. This record is aged long and deep in the existential foreboding that we all seem to have been waking up to daily for the past year. It feels like sitting in a wet box, waiting for the bottom to fall out.
The album’s undercurrent isn’t nihilistic, but it is worried and a bit worse for wear. It doesn’t advocate surrender, but self-preservation coupled with resistance. This is captured in the synth streaked “There the First Time” (which is both a lament and clarion call to batten down hatches in preparation for an impending collapse), the propulsive “Days Come Down,” and the elastic “Decades,” the latter of which is an excellent example of the album’s spacious, reverb-laden production, full of basses that sound like sequencers. This sound is the result of another collaboration with Good’s longtime BFF Warne Livesey (who has produced Midnight Oil, The The, Deacon Blue, All About Eve, and many others). Detailed yet thick and slick, melodic, rocking and atmospheric, it’s easy for Americans to envision an alternate reality where these songs are in steady rotation on your local modern rock station.
On several tracks, including album opener and lead single “Bad Guys Win,” Good obscures his versatile and powerful voice under layers of instrumentation and processing or keeps it low in the overall mix, only occasionally letting it punch through at full force. Elsewhere, he simply keeps his pitch low. In isolation, this is somewhat frustrating—why not use your best weapon?—but taken as part of the whole album, the restraint is revealed to be conscious and astute. The moments where Good’s voice soars or snarls unfettered feel like momentary peeks of blue sky amidst weeks of flat, gray, cloudy days and completely attuned to the album’s theme.
The epic title track’s orchestration lends it a dramatic disquiet. This tension and uncertainty is amplified by the song’s placement at the record’s midpoint, as well as by the way the vocals abruptly stop halfway through the song, leaving only strings moving in horizontal layers like a relentless ocean rain.
Good has a knack for crafting haunting album closing tracks, and here, “Bullets in a Briefcase” is no exception. It sounds a bit like a folk-rock Radiohead, and slides along, eerily and wearily, like wandering a long hallway, fumbling for a door that might not exist. The midtempo, piano-led “She’s Got You Where She Wants You” features some of Good’s best vocals on the entire album and a plaintive guitar solo that sounds like throwing an anchor into a choppy sea. Something Like a Storm’s lyrics scan like koans, like cut-up poems from dark fortune cookies, at once specific and impressionistic, hurting, uncertain, and beautiful.
Over 20 years into his career, Good still defies comparison. His music comforts and challenges, understands and provokes. He is seeking trust but frightened it doesn’t exist, or that we as a species have dynamited into too many shards to be reconciled. Something Like a Storm gathers the dark clouds, but also offers glimpses of hope for the future. | Mike Rengel