The best song on singer-songwriter Matt Duke’s third album One Day Die is a 3-minute slice of jangle-pop about death. Written more as an elegy, than a rumination on mortality, “The Hour,” points to a maturity in Duke’s songwriting that the South Jersey native has heretofore yet to display. But this sweetly melodic slice of funereal ear candy is only a fraction of the charm at work on One Day Die. While the disc is certainly not a home-run there are enough aural nuggets to keep listeners satiated and at least introduce Duke to the mainstream.
Whether its the guitar-driven edginess of album opener “MLT,” or the reverb-drenched “Kangaroo Court,” there’s something brazen, focused and defiant about the album’s first two efforts. He returns to the intimate approach of his back catalog on “Love You Anymore,” a forlorn duet with singer-songwriter Cara Salimando. It’s never a good thing when a duet partner trumps the song’s writer, but Salimando does just that. As if cognizant of that, Duke then throws out his best three songs back to back to back.
On the jangly first single “Needle and Thread,” he showcases his pop swerve while detailing the hardscrabble life of a vagabond singer-songwriter. In the end, it’s bleakness is met by triumph and hope and is just the kind of song American radio DJs need to embrace. The sparse ballad “Lay,” is a gooey and sweet valentine that rekindles Duke’s coffeeshop roots and is probably days away from being placed on a WB teen soap opera.
Rambling narrative “The Bench on The Hill and Tom Ramblewood,” is an intimate and potent exercise that allows Duke to woo the listener with his tender timbre. While it’s easily one of the album’s peaks, it’s also the last good moment for about 10 minutes, as the overly caffeinated “Psycho-Babble,” and the narcissistic “Seriously, Indulge Me,” don’t do a single thing to carry the album forward. By the time the gorgeous tenth track “Shangri-La,” is offered up, one is left fatigued and bleary-eyed. Whether that was Duke’s intent or not remains to be seen but the previous two misses unfortunately dwarf a gorgeous, falsetto-laden ballad. Sadly One Day Die ends awkwardly with the spartan “Abandoned,” a track that goes virtually nowhere and says very little.
That One Day Die is so top-heavy and so hit and miss is certainly no surprise. Even on 2008’s major-label debut Kingdom Underground, Duke wasn’t able to offer up an album of consistency. Even when One Day Die hiccups, one can’t help but marvel at Duke’s clever wordplay. Possessing a keen eye for detail and a penchant for introspection, he pens lines that need to be read to be realized. Ostensibly a journal of the innerworkings of a 20-something beset by death, love lost and fatigue, the disc’s prose is a high water mark and certainly announces the arrival of a promising new talent.
Buy One Day Die here.