This Alone Above All Else in Spite of Everything is the fourth album by Matthew Sweet’s Boduf Songs project. Although this is my first exposure to his music, I get the impression that it’s a solo project in the truest sense – a sonic reflection of its creator and a thorough insight into his thoughts. This Alone… is often pretty, delicate – yet haunted and uncomfortable, with moments of seemingly innocent beauty forever threatening to cave in and give way to more harrowing passages.
But I’ll be honest. The first track still fails to click with me. I can sense the melancholy that runs through its sparse melody as it plods mournfully between two chords, and I can admire the beautifully recorded piano, with the soft patter of piano hammer on the strings and various mechanism creaks. But that’s about it. I imagine many people will be able to “tap into” and enjoy “Bought Me a Cat O Nine”, but unfortunately I’m unable to really connect.
Thankfully it’s a different story from here on in, with most of the remaining seven pieces proving to be completely captivating and each of them lead by Sweet’s brittle, hushed vocal delivery. “Absolutely Null and Utterly Void” carries a melody that seems to drip blissfully from Sweet’s guitar, whilst “They Get on Slowly” leaves a simple drum loop to run behind the deep hum of pad resonance and meandering bass line. Everything feels up close, with the natural imperfections of each instrument left as glaring as they should be. It’s not an escapist experience – rather, This Alone… seems to come to you, leaving you tangled up in a very dreary, greyscale perspective of reality.
“Decapitation Blues” is arguably the strongest cut for the way in which it mercilessly rips its own atmosphere in two – a delicate vibraphone loop becomes a fierce rock-out groove in seconds flat, announced by a harsh snare drum snap that ruptures the warmth that lingers and builds across the first two minutes. It’s an abrupt and unexpected transition upon first listen and caught me completely off guard, but it’s one that sits comfortably within the dynamic narrative of the entire release.
When you reach the end of This Alone… you realise that it’s as complex and undefinable as any good introspective record should be. Whilst it may refuse to streamline itself into one particular sound, with each track drawing from a different texture palette from the last, it succeeds as an unforgiving self-portrait – a comprehensive depiction of all the different forms and colours that comprise a single personality. I get the impression it’s been composed in complete isolation, oblivious to audience and outsider expectations, with even the dark and suppressed elements of Sweet’s soul plucked out and thrust into the light.