Matt Duke | Kingdom Underground (Ryko)

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cd_matt-duke.jpgMatt Duke's sophomore release is another testament to his top-shelf vocal abilities, but other elements fail to enhance and compliment said abilities.







Imagine receiving a different feeling (or several) almost every time an album is heard: irritation, fascination, apathy, indecision, fatigue, admiration. Keep in mind, the base mood is pretty balanced and laidback. Now, picture trying to concoct a review with prior reactions swirling amid an accumulation of new ones.

Matt Duke's sophomore release is another testament to his top-shelf vocal abilities, but other elements fail to enhance and compliment said abilities. For instance, a corny phrase, a particularly redundant refrain, or excessively estrogen-friendly percussion stylings easily sour a good listening experience. Oddly enough, some of these features work well in a few tracks.

"Father, the Son and the Harlot's Ghost" isn't an ideal introduction. It's moderately enjoyable and could be considered highbrow chick-flick music; however, little stingers poke at certain points, eliciting a cringe and/or knotted eyebrow. For instance, a falsetto-steered, slightly whiny sound ushers in lyrics such as, "Oh sweet thing/ bombs away and I'll say..." and "...kiss me honey sweetly with our eyes closed." These little pin stabs manage to fulfill the minimum requirement of sappiness for the day.

A little damage control follows with "Sex and Reruns." Duke's higher octaves combine with synthesized sounds, yielding a light-hearted, playful effect. The lines "Dark out all your demons with white noise, pills and Jesus" produce a quirky contrast in this memorable and clever piece.

An urge to press "skip" occurs with mid-album animal-morphic tracks "Opposum" and "Rabbit." The former opens with "Summer colds never really made much sense at all"; the latter's annoyingly cyclic refrain "Run little rabbit, run" exudes a whimpering sensitivity that's more compatible with an extremely mellow mood. Minus a few phrases, both sound like an audio interpretation of children's stories.

The album ends with "Spilt Milk," a soft, simple piece that successfully thrives on the repetition of "I just wanna start over, start over." It builds into an emotional crescendo, closing with the most ardent and heartfelt spot in the album. Duke seems to have a very close connection with this track. The fact that it played in an episode of Lifetime's Army Wives may weaken some expectations, but don't let it. Music coordination is its own art form.

Matt Duke has the potential to be a Top 40 climber. It's foreseeable that his emotional, straightforward delivery and range-versatile voice will appease the tastes of anti-mainstream and pop music lovers alike. Underground Kingdom is a promising early step, but it's definitely not the pinnacle of Duke's potential. C+ | Lauren Beckerle

RIYL: Jason Mraz, Matt Nathanson, John Mayer, Augastana

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