Every once in a while, a new album in the otherwise extremely underappreciated folk-rock genre will come along and earn 15 seconds of fame rivaling the visibility of mainstream pop music. Often, these albums burn bright and fast, leaving the scene just as quickly as they arrived and are totally forgotten.
Matt Nathanson, the man behind the 2007 song “Come On Get Higher” from the album “Some Mad Hope,” is a textbook example of the short lifespan folk-rock hits enjoy. Since then, Nathanson has released two other albums, “Modern Love” (2011) and “Last of the Great Pretenders” (2013), neither of which reached the heights of “Some Mad Hope.” Now the singer-songwriter is back with “Show Me Your Fangs,” released Oct. 2.
“Show Me Your Fangs” sees Matt Nathanson executing everything he does well with aplomb. His charisma is off the charts on this album as he immediately endears himself to his listeners with the opening track, “Giants.” “Yeah, we’re only hearts and bones and blood / But we are giants, giants,” Nathanson sings over a bouncy instrumental background filled with heavy percussion and flying horns. “Giants” dissolves cynicism like bleach dissolves a stain, leaving the listener fresh and eager for more.
Nathanson produces music that is sure to delight all listeners. Even in the darker reaches of the repertoire, his music maintains a driving, upbeat message, and, even when the material is totally unrelatable, listeners will find themselves empathizing.
That’s not to say that Nathanson overloads his latest release with uplifting, feel-good songs. “Bill Murray” takes a more somber turn, with muted lyrics and quiet piano backing Nathanson as he sings to his love, “You only get one person knows you best / And it’s temporary everybody else.” The premise of the song is unbelievably charming: Nathanson is dreaming that he and Bill Murray are friends traveling the world together, with Murray offering the dreamer intermittent relationship advice as they go. Perhaps Nathanson saw “Lost in Translation” (2003) before writing this song. Even at its darkest moments, “Bill Murray” remains utterly endearing and refrains from becoming indulgently introspective, always keeping the musical and emotional content of the song fresh.
To wit, songs such as “Playlists & Apologies” and “Headphones (feat. LOLO)” push beyond the folk-rock sounds of “Show Me Your Fangs” and the rest of Nathanson’s oeuvre. In these two songs in particular, the percussive elements move to the front of the arrangements, punctuated by piano and strings in a way that is reminiscent of mellow hip-hop arrangements. LOLO, previously featured on Panic! at the Disco’s “Miss Jackson (feat. LOLO)” (2013), counterbalances Nathanson’s singing with her own occasionally auto-tuned vocals. The digital processing on LOLO’s voice makes it seem like an instrumental rather than a vocal addition to the arrangement, and the contrast sits well with the production approach taken to the other tracks.
On the whole, “Show Me Your Fangs” is a heavily and beautifully produced album. Few, if any, of the songs would sound the same in a coffee shop environment. That said, they would probably all sound amazing as acoustic arrangements — as folk-rock music should. “Show Me Your Fangs” is the story of two albums: on one album, there is a singer-songwriter exploring new genres of music and succeeding, and, on the other album, there is a singer-songwriter doing more of what he does best: ooze charisma. There is absolutely nothing wrong with either one, and both albums, so to say, are worth a listen.