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Jess Matsen: Sun Stain 

The usual problem with singer/songwriter solo albums from a member of an active band is that it's typically a disc's worth of self-important, self-aggrandizing narratives on the plight of the misunderstood artiste.

Additionally, the music is usually stripped of all the collaborative aspects that made the parent band exciting by relying on a hackneyed back-to-basics process, most often little more than the predictable strummed acoustic guitar or piano plinking.

Dream Sick's Jess Matsen ignores that route on Sun Stain, a record that puts his contributions to that group into bold relief while straying from them. While none of the songs here harness Dream Sick's powerful, noisy racket, Matsen fashions an environment that feels reflective but not insular. The cleverly placed opener, "Every Hallway," broadens the instrumental palette to include organs, outmoded drum machines, and cathedrals of reverb lingering on each lyric. By setting the tone of the album this way, when "Desert Rain" begins with a fingerpicked acoustic guitar, the results are still more Spacemen 3 than Stephen Stills.

"Classic Warfare" is Sun Stain's instant classic, sounding slightly like a less self-assured "Love Hour Zero" by Demon Queen. Cinematic in scope and hesitantly triumphant, "Classic Warfare" is Matsen's victory lap, notable because running a victory lap is still running, which illustrates movement, effort and restlessness as one of Tucson's most gifted songwriters raises the bar not just for himself but for modern music in general.

More by Joshua Levine

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