Album Review: Gaz Coombes - Matador

British rockers Supergrass came out of the gate with a punky brashness that had little in common with their fellow "Britpop" compatriots.

1995 was a high watermark for "Britpop" and british music in general with dozens of classic albums being released within months and weeks of each other.

Supergrass' debut album "I Should Coco" stood apart from the pack with lightning fast rhythms and cheeky ruminations on the condition of British youth.

It wasn't quite a classic, but that made it endearing since it felt like Supergrass was a work-in-progress.

The album guaranteed them opening-slot status on numerous tours that year and while nothing from the album crossed the guys over to the US, their debut music video "Caught By The Fuzz" did get lampooned on Beavis And Butthead, a sign that the guys were doing something right. As the years went by, their releases were highly respected by America, but no Supergrass song ever came even close to a hit. They didn't have the looks of Oasis, or the genre-jumping eclecticism of Blur.

1997's In It For The Money was a song-cycle that piled on cynicism of the music business complete with huge soaring arrangements. 1999's self-titled album meandered into psychedelia and Dark Side soundscapes.

It is around this time that they began to be comfortable with their regional stardom.

After a career spanning "best of" set, the guys from Oxford decided to go their separate ways in 2010. Gaz Coombes, the golden-voiced mutton-chopped lead singer, could have gone the route of Damon Albarn and ventured into the highly fashionable hip-hop sound or even dabbled in EDM, a sure-fire money maker in the 2010s. "Matador" his second solo album, does neither.

Gaz has challenged himself with a set of difficult, sophisticated compositions that often go off on un-expected tangents. Of a piece with Damon Albarn's 2014 solo set "Everyday Robots," "Matador" uses technology to broaden emotional landscapes but often finds an emptiness as a result.

There are hardly any moments that "rock" on Matador, one of Supergrass' calling cards. Instead there are chopped up loops, bright synth stabs and a huge dose of finger-picked acoustic guitar.

Often finding a middle ground between electronica (that dated description) and dark folk, Matador finds Gaz sounding sharper than ever as a songwriter. "The Girl Who Fell To Earth" swirls with analog keyboards and Nick Drake-esque acoustic arrangements and ends up being one of Gaz's best songs since the salad days of Supergrass. "It's hard to see it's not love, when you're blinded by computer love" he sighs, maybe commenting on the complete ubiquity of technology in 2015.

"The English Ruse" builds a head of steam with hypnotizing Krautrock beats and a beautiful, catchy melody. "Needle's Eye" is the funkiest thing here, utilizing a "dub" production style and an exploding chorus laced with lovely female background vocals.

My only complaint would be that Matador would have made more a splash if it was released say ten years ago. The genre mash-ups and experiments on here slightly clash with Gaz's sophisticated and mature songwriting. This is the sound of a band leader completely eschewing what made him famous, and while that can be a brave move, it can also be slightly alienating to longtime listeners.

However, his keen sense of exploration partnered with a nice collection of melodies impresses this longtime listener. I give Matador by Gaz Coombes 4 Empty Lighthouses out of 5.

 photo EmptyLighthouseStar_zps40939qdv.jpg photo EmptyLighthouseStar_zps40939qdv.jpg photo EmptyLighthouseStar_zps40939qdv.jpg photo EmptyLighthouseStar_zps40939qdv.jpg photo EmptyLighthouseNoStar_zpsm6wdp65t.jpg

For more on Gaz Coombes: http://gazcoombes.com