Huntington Beach, California native Matt Costa has and will continue to draw comparisons to fellow singer/songwriter Jack Johnson, and for good reason. After all Costa is signed to the Johnson owned Brushfire Records and has been the supporting act on a number of Jack’s headlining tours. The two artists also share a rather similar sound, on the surface at least; the kind of sound that makes a perfect companion while you’re relaxing on a warm sunny afternoon. If you’re to dig a little deeper though, you’ll find out that Johnson’s laid back surf tunes are quite a bit different than Costa’s specialized pop-folk. While his mentor seems to stick to a winning formula, Matt tries his take on every sound imaginable that he can somehow fit into his genuine style.
Unfamiliar Faces is Costa’s second full length album. For those fortunate enough to hear Matt’s debut disc, Songs We Sing, you’ll know what I mean when I say it’s a hard task to try and pin down any one word to describe his sound. Songs\' was definitely all over the place musically; from the slow acoustic ditties to the electric guitar anthems, even taking a stab at western swing. The most surprising thing though is that he makes it work so well. No matter what genres he attempts, it’s all grounded by a steady dose of admirable guitar playing and an exceptionally stellar vocal performance. The new album improves in some places over its predecessor. On one hand it’s much more cohesive, at times Songs felt more like a collection of singles than an integrated album, likewise Faces improves greatly on giving the disc the heart warming feel of a unified work of art. Lyrically Matt attempts to stray away from the mundane stereotypical love songs and, for the most part, usually succeeds. Still, there’s nothing too moving or thought provoking here. Featuring a hand full of heart break songs, a track about boredom, a trip to Europe, and the ever mysterious "Cigarette Eyes," fill the agenda. With an artist like Costa though, it’s the beautiful melodies and interesting sounds that come first and foremost.
The album begins with the infectious piano driven, “Mr. Pitiful”, not to be confused with the Otis Redding classic. The song is the first single off the album and it features one of the catchiest pop hooks you’ll probably hear all year. The title track is delicious pop nostalgia with a driving acoustic sound that’s all but carried by Costa’s pitch perfect vocal. The aforementioned “Cigarette Eyes” and the similar “Never Looking Back,” are a special blend of age old folk and catchy modern pop with a back bone. While the toe tapping “Bound” and “Miss Magnolia” are winning attempts at a western pop sound, a guise that may fit Matt the best.
All in all, Costa’s vision to put contagious pop melodies on a wide variety of musical styles works to perfection on Unfamiliar Faces. Though it may lack some of the catchier numbers of previous works it surely makes up for it in sheer substance and cohesiveness. It is without a doubt his best release to date. For those who like a little variety in their life, Faces should indubitably hit the spot.
"Unfamiliar Faces" is on sale October 8, 2007 from Brushfire.