Feeling a bit like The Flaming Lips, but with a harder edge and a harder singer, Matthew Danger Lippman kicks off his 5-song EP called Touchdown U.S.A. with the short and punchy Loved.
Soupy and psychedelic, with some challenging angular chord changes, it comes swaggering out of the traps with no shortage of confidence. Spiritually, the song could be an updated All The Young Dudes, all youth and brimstone and guitar noise. But far from being a sprawling exercise in indulgent psychedelia, I notice that the kicks are crisply underpinned by the bass, and the guitar wrangling on display is satisfying and well-realised. It’s an extremely impressive statement of intent, and I’m instantly intrigued to hear what comes next.
Suburban Girlfriend instantly makes its mark, as we get more of the angular chord changes and a clearer view of the Lippman vocal – a nicely overwrought vibrato that puts me in mind of Ian Astbury’s in places. There are moments of exaggerated over-enunciation and swooping portamento in the vocal that suit the musical backdrop perfectly.
Lippman swoops up into falsetto with confidence, and when he does the reverb is tweaked hard to send it into the stratosphere, and now I’m thinking of MGMT’s first album and also the sonic exploration of Julian Cope’s more unhinged moments from the 1980s. The whole palette becomes something of a trip as the track progresses, splashing cymbals and interesting drum accents and some great keyboard work, quite low in the mix.
As it swirls, and more effects get tweaked, the whole breaks down into satisfying little keyboard motifs and sensitive vocal gymnastics drenched in reverb. It oozes confidence (there’s that word again), and as a listener, I have to say that’s a very attractive thing to hear.
Next up is the EP’s title track. It begins as a simple guitar and vocal piece, very laid-back – then gentle theremin sounds woven through a loosely-grooving backing band drop in with a very different mood. It still weighs in at less than 2 minutes, and I’m again struck by the artist’s complete absence of worry about adhering to any kind of accepted arrangements or, indeed, expectations. Some sweet breathy backing vocals ease the track to its conclusion, and I’m very much left wanting more.
I get that in the form of U Did Me In. I’m getting into the choice of surf guitars, with their delays and reverbs and detuned moments. Now I’m thinking of Pink Floyd’s Brain Damage because of the chord choices. The 70s style Bolan-esque production (with its brutal slap-back) gets a bit more free rein here, until a coruscating guitar solo comes in and we are reminded that its 2021. The bass quietly, confidently marks out a walking blues progression and organ flirts around the edges of the sound.
Finally we get Things Don’t Break My Heart Like They Used To. In lots of ways, this song is the most straightforward offering here. Lippman’s vocal still feels capable of heading off on a tangent, but adheres closely to the guitar riffs while retaining its playful energy.
The track also features vocals from Scout Gillett, which lends a new colour to the set right at the end. They climb around offering something new, sometimes in unison, sometimes adding to the pad. The track loops on hypnotically before coming to a quiet conclusion. It’s probably/arguably the catchiest track of the collection, and therefore the smart choice with which to conclude.
This is a collection of music that you can’t really have on in the background – it demands your attention. The whip-smart lyrics and confidence and swagger and unconventional arrangements all feed into a portrait of an artist with clear ideas and the nous to pull them off. With some style!
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Where does the title “Touchdown USA” come from?
“Touchdown U.S.A.” was a stream-of-consciousness bit that kinda took on some elevated meaning as I sat with it: a little bit of “scoring,” a little bit of 50s-style youthful naivety, a little bit post-ironic machismo. It felt like it summed up my period of growth. It felt like a self-defeating mantra.
There seems to be almost a sardonic tone to some of the lyrics and the way they play off the musical choices you make. This seems to stick out at times during ‘Suburban Girlfriend’ and the title track. Do you feel like there’s a balance between the cynical and genuine throughout the EP?
Furshure. At my high school graduation, my friend’s mother told me that everything I do is “touched with irreverence.” I think she was referring to the way that I kinda self-consciously, cheekily walked across the stage to accept my diploma, but it struck me as essentially true. I’m not of the west coast, reverent variety. I grew up without the shadow of religion or family dynasty or anything. I kinda feel like I was birthed into the world without much context. So it all seems a lil funny to me. At the same time I think that the best pipeline to accessing a bonafide emotional moment is to approach it from the backdoor. To me, ‘Suburban Gurlfriend’ is a pretty sad lament, but it’s rooted in this kind of humorous pitiful state.
What was it like putting this out during COVID, did it affect your plans at all?
Pretty wack. Of course it affected my plans. I wasn’t tryna hang out on Instagram begging for Spotify listens — I was tryna hang out in empty bars along the American midwest begging for listeners! Which is on the whole just as much of a money-suck, but traveling and sleeping on floors and trying experimental chemical compounds and maybe even kissing a stranger or two is much easier on the soul and the ego than this whole online-biz. If you ask me Stereo Stickman, “things are gonna change, I can feel it” in the 2020s. It’s all gonna be a lil more smoky and broken, and I hope a hustler or two can slip through the shattered doors. It ain’t right what they’re doing to us.
U Did Me In has a great moment in the middle of the track with an over the top fuzz solo over kind of a classic blues strut, what was the feel in the studio when recording that?
The “studio” was my drummer’s house, and his roommates were home and patient but getting a wee bit irritated. The fuzz solo was an overdub, and I wanted it to be as Nine Inch Nails headphone-busting as possible — a bit of a reference to their track “Ruiner” which has a similarly audacious guitar solo. Basically it was me hunched over the amp, track playing back in speakers, playing these discordant notes to an otherwise silent household. God bless the home in Jersey City.
How do you know Scout Gillett (of Shadow Year), her contribution on Things Don’t Break My Heart Like They Used To sounds great...
She’s my roommate! I always loved her music and we became friendly. I was recording that song during q*arantine and she heard it and offered to write a harmony part. Really tied the song together if you ask me.