Eric Matthews' welcome return last year with the mini-LP Six Kinds Of Passion Looking For An Exit was a surprise, not just because it had been almost eight years since his previous record, but because his style had become more stripped-down and open. Matthews made his reputation in the late '90s with obscure, fussily orchestrated pop, tightly packed and solidly built, and to hear him sing six-minute, drone-y songs about the mistakes he's made was arresting, even disconcerting. The 17 songs on Foundation Sounds push even further. They aren't as long, but they're just as conversational, and they all rely on simple arrangements with very few instruments. They're built around the fundamentals—the "foundation"—of composition.
Which isn't to say they lack flourish. On the first song, "Our House," Matthews' smooth, mahogany voice slips through clanging guitars and rhythmic piano, building tension at every turn, and though songs like "Sorry," "Gold," and "Survive" combine self-examination with a one-track pound-and-rise approach, their elegance is impressive. But the new Matthews can also be as exhausting as the old Matthews. He doesn't vary his melodies much, and the bursts of molten-lava guitar or Chuck Mangione-style horn solos in any given song sound, frankly, interchangeable.
Still, even when it's flagging as music, Foundation Sounds remains bracing as a manifesto. At first, following Matthews' musical logic, as he clips pop back to its skin, is counterintuitive, like listening to a florist explain why stems are more beautiful than petals. But listen closely enough, and it almost starts to makes sense.