The Legal Matters

Omnivore, 2016

REVIEW BY: Jason Warburg


Sequencing matters.

It’s a maxim that may feel slightly less relevant in an era when singles and EPs are ascendant, but it’s one of the defining elements of the album as an art form. Recording a terrific batch of songs doesn’t guarantee you’ll deliver a terrific album—you still have to curate the tracks into a run order that maximizes both their individual impact and the overall experience of the album for the listener.  

For an illustration of this maxim in action, look no further than Conrad, the new album from The Legal Matters, whose self-titled debut was among my favorite indie albums of 2014. The retrophile band, whose harmony-heavy jangle-rock often feels like a lost Brian Wilson-Paul McCartney-Gene Clark-Graham Nash collaboration circa 1967, revolves around the collective talents and harmonizing voices of singer-songwriters Andy Reed, Chris Richards and Keith Klingensmith.

Conrad is populated with another set of smartly-crafted songs whose clever, often-lush arrangements make them shimmer in technicolor. Where things have gone slightly askew this time around is in the sequencing. After a few listens I rated the individual tracks in my iTunes library, and the opening four-song sequence looks like a slide falling from left to right. The rather languorous, melancholy kickoff cut “Anything” focuses on Richards’ solo voice more than the harmonies, and the guitars are jangly but subdued, making this not particularly hooky tune both atypical and an odd choice to open the album (two stars).my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Then oddball blues number “I’m Sorry Love” arrives, its dirge-y verses giving way to a propulsive, harmony-rich pre-chorus and weirdly off-kilter chorus. The harmonies soar and the warbly guitar solo is spot-on, but even a clever lyric (“You play all in / With a devilish grin / As I feel like I’m the witness to a crime”) can’t raise this one above the mean (three stars).

You’re all the way to “Minor Key” before the guys sound fully like themselves again, delivering an upbeat, hooky number with smart and sunny lyrics, smooth harmonies and doubled lead vocals (four stars). The party is fully on by the time you get to “Short Term Memory,” a punchy rock number with chunky guitars and fun gang vocals that sounds sort of like the Beach Boys covering a lost Badfinger tune (five stars).

The rest of the album, varied as it is, feels more in character with their debut. The winky, Beatlesque “More Birds Less Bees” features a sharp vocal arrangement, chimey guitars, and strings on the bridge. The superb “Pull My String” sets a lonely lyric inside a gentle Monkees/Hollies acoustic-guitars-and-harmonies arrangement that keeps you soaring through the melancholy.

“She Called Me To Say” and “Hip Hooray” pull off a similarly neat trick, sending rather glum lyrics soaring with expansive arrangements. In between, “The Cool Kid” offers a straight-up Beach Boys homage with harmonies to die for. The album completes with the gorgeous, piano-and-dense-three-part-harmonies, single-verse snippet “Lull And Bye,” followed by thoughtful rocker “Better Days” closing things out.

The lasting impression left by Conrad is of the “so close but not quite” variety. The Legal Matters have delivered another very strong batch of songs, for sure, but the strongest of the bunch have been partially obscured by the placement up front of a pair of tracks that probably belong around number eight and nine. Yes, Virginia: sequencing matters.

Rating: B+

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