Matthew E. White has fallen in and out of love. Hell tell you about it, if youre willing to listen. Big Inner isnt a misnomer; White reaches deep within his psyche on his debut album and unfurls emotions, confessions, and misgivings. But this isn’t catharsis. He doesnt mull over a shitty breakup or whine about how things didnt go his way. White looks back with calm reconciliation, basking in nostalgic highs and examining the lows.
Big Love acts as the thesis track. Its galloping, road-song tempo meshes with Whites refrain: Moving on like any other man should, moving on like any other man would. His words are reinforced by a seven-voice choir and a swelling string section. Musically, Big Inner reflects Whites stint as the band leader of avant-garde jazz group Fight the Big Bull. He cites Randy Newman as a personal hero, an influence that bridges the songwriting here with Whites jazzy background.
If Big Love is Whites take on an optimistic break-up song, then Will You Love Me is the inverse: a beckoning gesture incited by longing. Pheromones dart to and fro as White gets seductive: Baby, youre magnificent/ Child, youre intelligent/ Honey, you can pay the rent with that smile on your face. But during the chorus, White reveals that hes alone, trying to charm someone back into his arms. Darkness cant drive out darkness/ Only love can do that, only love can do that, he yearns through his whispery baritone — a cross between Bill Callahan and Bon Iver, for one.
White beautifies tragedies. On Gone Away, a song penned on the night of his young cousins death, he pleads, Why are you living in heaven today? Its bittersweet, with a minimalist arrangement that gently unspools into gospel soul one of the many uplifting flourishes that recur throughout Big Inner.
White juggles darkness and light, but his songs always end with their bright sides facing up. Though his lyrics often deal with personal conflicts (love, death, religion), White sings like a man who knows something good will happen. And its not wishful thinking. He knows things will get better. You can hear it in his voice. You can hear it in his music. Big Inner is a brilliant debut, brimming with homages to pop musics past, whether it be Motown or Randy Newman. But its Matthew E. Whites past, too. He lived these sounds, grew up with them, honed them as a bandleader. Now, hes giving them to us and we’re much better for it.
Essential Tracks: Big Love, Will You Love Me