Before Eric Matthews vanished from the alternative-rock landscape at the end of the '90s, some scene-watchers had pegged him as the next cult genius. He'd emerged from the short-lived quirk-pop band Cardinalfor which he provided dense orchestrations for songs by Australian folkie Richard Daviesand released two solo albums of richly imagined music that presaged the Burt Bacharach/Beach Boys troubadour wave of Jon Brion, Rufus Wainwright, and the like. Now, eight years after Matthews' last album, he returns unexpectedly with the seven-song mini-LP Six Kinds Of Passion Looking For An Exit, a record that's both less sophisticated than his earlier work, and more nakedly emotional. The obscure lyrics of Matthews' past have been replaced by direct confessionals like "Cardinal Is More," in which he apologizes to Davies for screwing up what could've been the most important band of the last decade. Later, on "Underground Song," he explains his long absence as a failure of nerve, admitting to being "safe underground / relief in no sound."
Six Kinds Of Passion still sounds essentially like a Matthews project. His voice retains its low, whispery quality, and he continues to favor lilting minor-key melodies. But he's using less orchestration now, and dragging the songs out at a slower pace, reminiscent of Red House Painters. The result is a record less stiflingly florid than Matthews has been in the past. The soft buzz and bruised expressiveness of "So Overblown" and "You Will Be Happy" are almost embarrassing in their honesty, but the songs are too pretty to produce cringes. Six Kinds Of Passion is disappointing only in that it's been so long in coming. Eight years, wasted.
Over that time, lushness has been a persistent trend in alternative rock, even among musicians who may not know Matthews' music. The Atlanta-based emo band Copeland added some sonic scope to midtempo rock on its debut, Beneath Medicine Tree, but the follow-up, In Motion, is much richer. Following the scorching album-opener "No One Really Wins," Copeland slides into "Choose The One Who Loves You More," which sounds like a scuffed-up version of '80s adult contemporary, and then "Pin Your Wings," the kind of energizing anthem that usually plays over the opening credits of a high-school romantic comedy. Throughout the first half of In Motion, bandleader Aaron Marsh sings songs of yearning and heartbreak that unfurl deliberately, adhering to the basic principles of hard-rock structure while pausing frequently for a symphonic pop breather. Copeland eventually lapses into more routine post-adolescent whine-and-bash, but not before delivering the dreamy "Sleep," a densely layered ballad that turns bratty angst into something profoundly refined.