When death is near and doom impending, people have a tendency to get ironically calm and reflective. It’s much in the vein of those moments that Mathew Sweet pens his songs. Singing with the serene whisper of a man who’s seen it all and not afraid of anything.
“How Shadows Chase the Balance” is Sweet’s third, official release, not counting a myriad of limited cd-r’s before he was picked up by Kranky and although he stays true to the minimal, goth-folk style of previous albums, he’s not afraid to allow some minor progressive details in his work. Hence the heavy bass and plodding drums during “Quiet When Group” or the pastoral, vocal harmonies of “A Spirit Harness”. But you can tell this album by it’s opening lines and, let me just warn you; they ain’t as sweet as Sweet’s name might imply. “Mission Creep” introduces the album to us with the line “All of my heroes / died the same day / all of them falling away
” and with that he sets the tone, and pace, for the rest of this album.
When the mood on an album is this dark, you tend to let small, uplifting details get to you more and that’s what happens when during “I Can’t See a Thing In Here” suddenly a xylophone joins the placid guitar strums. It’s more of a sarcastic grin than exubarant laughter though and when Sweet sings “you drag your corpse around
” and “don’t forget to fall apart
”, you realize he’s just using these details to accentuate the gloom, not to ease the pain
“How Shadows Chase the Balance” might be Sweet’s most confronting album yet, not only because of it’s intense, poetic lyrics but mainly because it’s his most cleanly produced album yet. Not one bleak thought gets lost in a curtain of 4-track static, not one sigh fails to beam right through you. 8/10 -- Joris Heemskerk (12 November, 2008)