Masterful songwriting occasionally comes from out of nowhere. The people who’ve followed the careers of acts like Bob Mould, The Gloria Record, Mineral, and Chicago’s Verbow are well versed in Matt Hammon’s talents, but his first solo release Silver Suitcase goes places where his stellar work with those artists even hinted at. The ten songs on this initial offering are cut in an ideal way that ensures the listener is never wasting their time and Hammon sounds confident of exactly what he wants to say on each track. It’s further impressive that Hammon shows off his talents as a multi-instrumentalist while retaining a distinctive musical voice in each of those respective roles. He’s taken on the full onus of Silver Suitcase’s creative burden and never buckles under the weight – instead, there’s an inspired air surrounding the songs that Hammon taps into and communicates well to the audience.
His opener “Pictures” alternates the way it comes at listeners. Some of it has a light, jangling guitar sound, especially during the verses, while the choruses’ picks up things with a sharp uptick in energy and Hammon pushes it all along with a breathlessly energetic vocal. “The Table” is a much more raucous track with an uptempo thrust and busy guitars, but the vocal melody has strength that the arrangement, perhaps, lacks for some listeners. His vocals are definitely treated more with post production gimmickry here, but not so much that it drags down the whole enterprise. “Out of Touch” is a head down, spartan guitar rocker with nice drumming from Hammon that keeps things steady throughout. His voice is extraordinarily clear here and he puts over the self-reflective lyrical content without any hint of a whine or pandering in his voice. The sincerity in his singing in undoubted. “Never Say So” certainly recalls the glory days of nineties alternative rock with his arena rock like punch and big guitars, but it’s a cut above some cheap attempt to cash in that sound because constant reminders of the unique personality behind these songs keeps coming through. As a longtime drummer, Hammon thinks about things in a very percussive way and that extends to his use of the language – many of the lines in the album’s songs are taut and fraught with meaning thanks to their unwillingness to waste a word. “Never Say So” comes off as one of the album’s best examples of this.
Some will surely disagree, but “As a Child” and “Silver Suitcase” are the album’s highlights. They come in the middle of the release and complement each other in important ways while having, ultimately, much different effects on their audience. The first song is in the same mold as the earlier “Out of Touch” with its confessional lyric, but its vulnerability and musical imagination are very affecting. The title song is likely the best moment on the release and it is a superb lyric, rife with imagery and powerful phrases that Hammon gets behind with every ounce of his vocal skill. The marriage of words, voice, and instruments with a corresponding melody creates a practically cinematic listening experience. The album’s second to last song is a moody, slightly psychedeliczed acoustic track with evocatively treated vocals, miked for distance and echo, playing off against the acoustic guitar and a synthesizer presence that rises and falls throughout the song’s duration. Silver Suitcase isn’t a perfect album, but it’s scarcely possible to imagine first releases that would impress you more this year.