Family Family Family Meets the Magic Christian, the debut album by Matthew and the Arrogant Sea, is an intimate collection of pop songs that are by turns lush and delicates, finding a balance between the sparkly pop of Animal Collective and the deconstructive lo-fi of Pavement. Eccentricities abound, usually framed by a combination of ukuleles, synthesizers and percussion, but the band is always to keep the songs focused around a basic verse and chorus frame. The songs explore a variety of genres but are able to remain enjoyable throughout.
Perhaps the band’s one false move is leading off the album with “Within the Universe,” an incredibly catchy disco composition that has the misfortune of starting off with synthesizer sounds that resemble a plastic vacuum hose being rotated at a high speed. In the age of instant musical gratification, there’s a chance that listeners will cut the song, and possibly the band, at this point and move on to something less appliance-based.
They would be missing the infectious dance beat that emerges in the tune, and also the thirteen other tracks. The rest of the songs meander around the musical map. “Last Time I Saw Jesus” is a spare piece of psycho-folk that imagines J.C. hanging out with Elvis and laughing at zebras. “Solomon Burke Greatest Hits” and “Marry Me Annie” wouldn’t sound out of place on a Harry Belafonte album. Matthew and the Arrogant Sea move effortlessly through different genres, rendering pop, country, folk, and psychedelic rock in spare and compelling forms.
What binds the songs together is spare production that highlights the smallest details. Every guitar chord and note struck on the bells is distinctive and contributes to the structure of the song. Family Family Family Meets the Magic Christian finds great impact in exploring the expansiveness of minimalism.