I’m a sucker for intertexuality, so the new Matthew E. White album is like a gift from above.
As much as I enjoyed Fresh Blood when I streamed it via NPR First Listen, having the deluxe vinyl edition — which includes an alternate, stripped-down mix of the album called No Skin — is a whole different ballgame. I keep going back and forth between the two discs, and I’d even recommend starting with the No Skin version. It’s a great way to take in the structure of the songs, Cameron Ralston’s amazing bass lines, the texture of White’s voice, the full glory of the guitar build that brings “Holy Moly” to a close…
Switching then to the official version is like opening the shutters on a bright and beautiful day. With apologies to Beyoncé, I’m finding Fresh Blood to be a very visual album. All the depth and shading that come from the string, horn and choral arrangements make the songs feel sculptural, and I think having No Skin as a second vantage point has a lot to do with seeing that third-dimension. (I’m reminded of the “Camera 1, camera 2” routine from Wayne’s World, but that’s neither here nor there.)
Other delights that come into focus while listening to No Skin: The space and pacing. How Phil Cook’s piano pops and the guitars so clearly express themselves. The still gravity of “Circle Round The Sun.”
Other delights that result from returning to the official version: Watching the complexity of “Tranquility” melt away, as the changes become second nature. Looking forward to the raspy punctuation of the horns in “Rock & Roll Is Cold.” Singing along with choral parts like you’re in the Spacebomb attic.
At a time when so much weight is given to initial reactions, Fresh Blood offers a lesson about the fruits of studied, unhurried appreciation. I can’t wait for what I’ll find the next time I listen.