ALBUM REVIEW: Matt Costa – ‘Yellow Coat’: an affair of a decade made song

TO BREATHE a little life into an old cliche, I bet my bottom dollar you’d find Matt Costa in the kitchen at parties. He’s that kinda guy. (And this is, of course, totally a compliment). He’s supremely interesting and interested, you can tell; would charm a small and randomly corkscrew-searching bunch of just-mets with wit and warmth and observation.

He’s also got a helluva big heart and a capacity to feel, as well as gorgeous leftfield pop songwriting chops, all of which are evidenced on Yellow Coat, his latest and seventh album, which is out on Dangerfield Records come September 11th.

Hailing from the small SoCal city of Huntington Beach, Matt began releasing albums in a small way back in 2006 with Songs We Sing on Brushfire Records. A quartet of albums for them, interleaved with a soundtrack, Orange Sunshine: Music From The Motion Picture, for the super-cred Varèse Sarabande saw him signing terms with Dangerbird Records of LA for his last album, the fantastically well-wrought new wave pop of Santa Rosa Fangs

Matt says of his relationship with Dangerbird: “I’ve always had freedom in making my records and songs, but with Dangerbird, and the last record, they really trusted me to follow my instincts, which is a pretty special place to be.”

Let not quality control torment you as an issue, dear reader, because Yellow Coat is a delightfully made slice of intelligent pop writing; if in just one or two places a little sad, it must be said.

And that’s because Yellow Coat acts a diary, a résumé to himself about a relationship that lasted a decade. The album tracks through chronologically, and begins with “Avenal”, the lovely papercut lockdown animation for which you can watch at the end of the review; and hasn’t that been one of the lovely developments of this otherwise accursed year, the lockdown animation?

And what a pretty little guitar pop nugget to slide in on; it inhabits the same artisan melodicism as yer Andy Shaufs and yer M Wards, and these are great neighbours to have in indie songcraft. The lambent chords of the middle eight are very Chicago scene, the brightness of a Wilco or a Jim O’Rourke.

It’s a charmer about the early days of love, when you see lucky charms and signs in a universe suddenly and clearly intent on your happiness: “It’s alright, cos tonight, there’s a feather falling on my street / There’s a glow of the light, giving me hope that you’ll be by my side.” Aww. 

And into the blue-eyed soul drama of “Slow”, the second single to be culled from Yellow Coat after “Avenal”, which we took a look at here. “It’s got this massive heart, with its roots in doowop and the very cream of 60s’ pop drama,” we said; “it’s music to slow-click your fingers to, leant against a jukebox, an eyebrow arched, looking at your intended.

“It’s deeply yearning and a little burned of heart, as Matt says: ‘I’ve heard it’s not what happens in dreams but how you feel about them. Some you don’t want to let go and you hope the light of day comes slow.’” 

You’d almost say it was a shoo-in for a Lynch or a Tarantino moment, but no: it’s far too pure and warm of intent for that.

“Make That Change” is all weaved up out of a lovely early 70s’ piano chug, powerpop ahoy; Matt is miked up nice and close like Alex Chilton. There’s a brief post-psychedelic middle eight when an organ swims free on a lake of otherworldly synth. “Let Love Heal” could well be the result of a crate-dig in some dusty desert fringe record shop with faded venetian blinds and a neon sign malfunctioning and pitching off true. There’s scuds of delicious reverb, string squeak, castanets, a sweet teen-pop pure vocal.

“Last Love Song”, by contrast, is one man and his guitar right up beside you confessing; missing. “If I’d never heard your voice / Never known its pleasant sound / My time on Earth would be dissonant discord; / If I’d never heard your voice.” Ah: the regret is so simply and plaintively rendered it really, properly moved me.

And there’s more classic jukebox-leaning, lover-ogling songwriting following in the shape of “Jet Black Lake”: wordless backing vocals, lots of reverb and good, old-fashioned, excellent tunesmanship carry the day on this brace, a boxer jabbing you left and right in the feels. It’s a beautiful, beautiful tune and a highlight of the record. Had it been the sole release on some East Coast label in ’64 you’d be looking into remortgaging for a song this classy.

“Savannah” moves the blue-eyed soul indie forward to what, maybe ‘67; and it’s then that it strikes you just how much soul this album has when it chooses to shake a hip. “Savannah” has an almost lovers’ rock groove, with that snare tuned right up high, brass busy, a real Sam Cooke upbeat thang goin’ on.

And just when you think you have the mid-period of the album sussed out, the imperious ambience of “Broken Eros (Interlude)” acts as a kind of musical pull shot, widening out the focus beyond the boy-girl classic soul infatuation of the previous three songs. It gives way to the title track itself, a blissful and emotionally complex, impressionistic indie lullaby in which Matt is soothing and hidden back in echo and those guitars. “Yellow coat, aaah aaah” soothes Matt herein. Are there the faintest touches of the 10CCs, just for a second, there?

“Sky Full Of Tears” stays out in the lush zone, swinging in waltz time. There’s cracks appearing in the relationship, the narrator clear to their increasingly estranged amour: “Don’t you forget what you have at home / You’ve got someone who cares / Chasing your dreams down a rabbit hole, you could be facing a sky full of tears”. Every drop of melodious luxury is wrought from that simple two-chord verse by string quartet grace, which swirls up and lends the same verdancy that the strings do to say, “The Killing Moon”.

For the portentously titled “When The Avalanche Comes”, we’re in Greenwich Village folk fingerpickin’ country, lifted by Matt’s vocal melody. Whereas writing about music might not be quite as hard as the old adage about dancing about architecture, it’s hard to convey throughout this album how absolutely on the money Matt is in his deft handling of classic stylings and tropes. He hits exactly the resonances he wishes to achieve, and his songwriting binds you back into a lineage rather than coming across as a retread. Every note, every inflection, is executed with nuance. 

We close out on “So I Say Goodbye”, the title of which tips you to steel yourself for some proper heartbreak. You’re pleasantly surprised when instead of reaching for the deepest drama Matt instead leads out cool n classy, accepting, philosophical, reflective, grateful even, on a Nilsson-style piano vamp; or maybe even The Lemon Twigs partially shorn of that furious spiralling of other textural ideas. Ten years gone, maybe; but ten good years, they were. Aww, hand it to that man.

Matt says: “My songs have always been something that transcends a feeling into something that is healing. I hope listeners and fans find these songs as personal and honest as they are to me.”

Again, for all the shades of nuance of the English language, I can offer you as the most accurate description only: it’s a bloody good album of bloody good, intelligent classic pop-indie-soul songwriting. It neither asks nor pretends to be any more than that; a good seven or eight of the dozen tunes herein should find an A-grade home in your heart.

Pour a drink of any kind you wish, make sure to tell your closest how much it is that you care, and put the needle back on Yellow Coat, again.

Matt Costa’s Yellow Coat will be released by Dangerbird Records on digital, CD and LP formats on September 11th; you can place an order for your preferred method of ingestion by clicking through right here.

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