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Positive Feedback ISSUE 41
january/february 2009


Sonic Satori
by Michael Mercer


Mat McHugh, Seperatista! Die!/Boredom Records/Controlled Substance Sound Labs

Mat Mchugh made the right choice by deciding to take a break from The Beautiful Girls (the famed Aussie band of which he is the founder and song-writer) in order to record some solo material. The result of his own artistic soul-searching is the expertly crafted debut album; Seperatista!. Rolling Stone actually nailed it on this one, giving the artist four stars. While this critical acclaim comes from the same magazine that named Beyonce's "Single Ladies" song of the year for 2008 they have proved, once again, that their editorial taste is not limited to the commercial waste bin. McHugh is a sonic looking glass into the musical renaissance taking place within the singer/songwriter community.

With worldwide recognition wrapping itself around artists like Jack Johnson (yes, this reviewer is indeed a fan) some performers are feeling the need to mix things up musically in order to reach a broader audience and have some measurable impact. This works only if the art is naturally varied. Some artists stretch their abilities in order to sound fresh or cutting edge. Mat McHugh's music sounds effortless; both his style and delivery are fluid and textural. While his many influences ring through in his music, it is clear that McHugh is no poser. His love for his craft is palpable, and his future could be bright should he make the right moves from this record forward.

There have been many comparisons of Mat McHugh to the late, greatly missed Elliot Smith; master of the beautifully morose ballad. Nowhere are these comparisons more accurate than on the album's first cut: "Under the Landslide." Think of the gorgeous tonality in Good Will Hunting's "Miss Misery" blended with the folky bounce of Ani DiFranco (or, the previously mentioned Jack Johnson). There is a real of warmth and coziness to his music that would make it perfect for film and soundtrack work.

Another asset in McHugh's musical arsenal is his variety. From the mellowing vibe of the introductory track to the ska/dancehall-infused sounds on his own interpretation of a classic on "Over and Over" (Ring the Alarm) he manages to take the listener on a carefully composed rhythmic journey. This ability to shake things up is one of the traits lacking in many of today's more popular singer/songwriters. "Numb", for example, is reminiscent of Ben Harper's soulfully crafted Welcome to the Cruel World album. These sounds, while not entirely new themselves, blend wonderfully, creating a whole picture that is uniquely Mat McHugh's.

The sonic integrity of the CD is another welcomed surprise. The drums are dimensional and hard-hitting without clouding the space around the rest of the instruments. Some of today's pop music is aimed strictly at those obnoxious car audio systems. The ones with the bass that shake your car windows, even if the vehicle blasting the music is four cars back. They get mixed and mastered with the bass guitar and kick drum so far forward it is difficult to understand the lyrics. This is not the case on Seperatista, where attention to detail and transparency were seemingly as important as the music itself. Fans of Elliott Smith, Joseph Arthur, Dar Williams or Jason Mraz take notice: Mat Mchugh is ready to rock. Seperatista! is due for release here in the states on February 3rd.