REVIEW: Matt Bonner — Seven Words (LP)
“Just lean into it a little,” whispers a seductive voice shortly after we press the play button on the title cut from Matt Bonner’s Seven Words, the advice proving to be quite helpful as we find the physicality of the instrumentation waiting on the other side of the statement. Whether hesitantly indulging in the swagger of a jazzy melody here or flirting with more experimental themes in “303” or “Lions,” Bonner puts on a masterclass in musicianship in his performance across this album, and even though the record first debuted more than a decade ago, his passion has kept it fresh all these years. “Kashmir” still aches with that distant emotionality it did back in 2009, while “Over the Edge,” “Shining City” and “Version of You” actually sound a little crisper now. From one song to the next, this tracklist feels more and more progressive in tone, taking us into the heart of its designer and consistently reminding us that he’s putting all of himself on the line in this piece. His vulnerabilities are fodder for every cathartic moment contained in Seven Words, and even if this weren’t the case, the chops he shows off in every composition are enough to make this a stone-cold classic by any measurement.
The lyrics in “Railway Line” and “Shining City” illustrate a commentarial style of poetry that I don’t hear enough of out of the mainstream, which shouldn’t exactly come as much of a surprise to those who keep up with the underground these days. The beats in “Over the Edge” and “Version of You” are as essential to the storytelling in Seven Words as any of the verses they offer us are, and in several key junctures between the title track and “Not Ending,” I’d say the instrumentation takes over a lot of the heavy lifting for the vocal. This isn’t because Bonner doesn’t have the skills to cut it in these scenarios, but instead because of his commitment to giving us the whole nine yards when it comes to quality tonality on the back and front ends of the mix. There’s no shortchanging us on organic melodicism in this LP, and that’s far more than can be said for the vast majority of new albums to have come across my desk in the years since this one’s arrival.
If you never had the chance to listen to this LP back in 2009 for whatever reason, I think this May would make for the perfect time to see why critics have regarded Seven Words as one of the best studio works of its era for as long as we have. There’s a striking precision to the way every note of music is delivered to us in this album, and while it’s the last major release we’ve heard from Matt Bonner to date, its legacy has created a lasting place for his persona in the pantheon of indie legends. All in all, Seven Words is a fun blast from the past that I don’t see many being able to resist in 2021.