Unfamiliar Faces

In ex-skateboarder Matt Costa’s sophomore album Unfamiliar Faces, he proves that he has the potential to be more than just a carbon copy of the surf-music maverick that signed him. Costa is Jack Johnson’s musical disciple, and it shows. Signed to Johnson’s label, Brushfire Records, Costa and Johnson share a similar injured-athlete-to-low-key-music-maker story and both enjoy a mellow acoustic sound. Costa dares to step beyond the acoustic guitar that served him so well in “Songs We Sing.” He added piano, harmonicas, and even a full band in one instance. With another album or two, Costa could clearly surpass his mentor and push into a more unique sound. Unfamiliar Faces is a diverse album with songs that remind listeners of artists ranging from the Beatles to Mungo Jerry. Costa starts Unfamiliar Faces off with a bang. The rollicking “Mr. Pitiful” is good fun and represents a new chapter in Costa’s musical evolution. He replaces the acoustic guitar sound of his debut album, “Songs We Sing”, with a peppy Beatles style piano melody. The piano and minimal orchestration showcases the most notable instrument in the repertoire of this multi-talented singer songwriter: his voice. Sounding more than a bit like a young Beatle, he confidently draws the listener into an amusing pop piano tune which demands you to hit the repeat button at least once. English on one tune and Scottish on the next, the musical comparisons do not stop with the Beatles. On “Vienna”, arguably one of the album’s best tracks, Costa pays homage to tween pop icon Belle and Sebastian. Light piano and the gentle guitar once again leave room for Costa’s lyrics and voice to shine as he sings a love song to the city of Vienna. His lyrics bring to life the place and his love for it, as he croons, “just bring her back to me.” Vienna weaves that certain kind of lyrical magic that leaves listeners with a vivid picture of Vienna in their minds. While Costa makes a valiant effort to flesh out his sound and move to the next musical level, it seems the more ornate his songs become, the more awkward he sounds. On such tracks as “Cigarette Eyes” and “Lilacs,” Costa’s simple charm gets lost in the orchestration, and the lyrics struggle for their time in the spotlight. “Lilacs” starts out promising a guitar sound that will remind any Costa fan of such songs as “Ballad of Miss Kate” and “Behind the Moon,” but quickly degenerates into an unremarkable tune. Unfortunately for Costa, the track is easily forgettable. One of Costa’ later tracks, “Cigarette Eyes,” suffers much the same fate as “Lilacs;” it has a promising start and a disappointing finish. Compared to Costa’s generally simple sound, the surplus of instruments on “Cigarette Eyes” sounds excessive – like he is trying a little too hard. While we admire Costa’s willingness to try new things with his music, a fuller sound is clearly not what he needs. Costa is at his best when he keeps it simple. Despite stumbling on a few tracks, Costa’s risks pay off on “Unfamiliar Faces.” His vocals are enough to let any fan know that he is still Matt Costa, but he shows growth crucial to the success of a new artist. Such tracks as “Vienna” and “Mr. Pitiful” present themselves as instant favorites, but the album hangs together as a whole with an easy flow. While there is no shortage of acoustic based singer/songwriters out ther, Unfamiliar Faces is evidence that Matt Costa can hold his own in an already crowded genre. All and all, the album is successful and not only worth a listen but worth a purchase, especially if you already have Jack Johnson’s entire discography on your Itunes.