by: Doc Jeffurious Higgason
Band: Matt Jaffe and the Distractions
Album: California’s Burning
Label: Elm City (ECI)
Occasionally I will poke my head above the surface to see what is happening out among the littered wasteland of today’s rock music scene. Mostly, I retire back unimpressed. Everything is so derivative these days it’s hard to find an original sort of blend. Good bands use their influences in the essence of ordering one from Column ‘A’, maybe two from Column ‘B’. It feels like that progressively new musicians try to be all of one column or the other.
This trip to the surface I ran into ‘California’s Burning’, the latest from celebrated independent recording artists Matt Jaffe and the Distractions. Jaffe, a young singer/songwriter/band leader/sugary lil’ cutie pie, (MATT WHY WON’T YOU RETURN MY CALLS? DON’T RUN FROM YOUR FEELINGS!) is just barely 22-years-old and has already tucked quite a career under his belt. He was originally discovered by former Talking Head keyboardist Jerry Harrison while performing at an open-mic show. Harrison became a solid catalyst in moving the young Jaffe forward. It was at Harrison’s studio in Sausalito, California where Matt Jaffe, who was still in high school recorded his first set of demo recordings. Soon after Jaffe formed ‘The Distractions’ with Alex Newell, Sammie Fischer and Alex Coltharp. They recorded a 5 song EP, ‘Blast Off’ in 2015. A majority of the release was produced by Matt King Kaufman who co-produced the classic ‘The Modern Lovers’ with Jonathon Richman in 1976. So far the band has opened for some very notable bands and singers. With ‘California’s Burning’ Jaffe and the band is stretching it’s legs with it’s first full length outing.
The album starts with ‘Love Is A Drug’ which is straight up a phone call to a time where rock was full of good old fashioned flamboyance. The song runs through fevers of The Yardbirds and the Dead Kennedys’ guitar work after they got slow. Jaffe draws most influence from bands including The Replacements and Talking Heads. Throughout the album many eras of music are called to mind. The song ‘Fire On The Freeway’ for instance, calls to mind car racing scenes from all those cheesy movies on HBO after midnight back in the 1980s. ‘Hellhounds of Alcatraz’ is another track that conjures forth cinematic themes from that same decade. Think of supernatural dogs attacking tourists who are visiting “The Rock”. FUN!
I hear many bemoan the notion that most music today is cobbled together through digital means and the result is modern songs sounding like electronic farts, bleeps and whistles. Matt Jaffe and The Distraction is 100% organic, handmade music. A principle Jaffe insists upon carrying onto the stage which has made his band one of the most exciting live YOUNG bands to check out.
On the other side of the coin, the downside to ‘California’s Burning’ seems to be the endeavor feels a bit top heavy, with just a few of the songs carrying possible wide spreading potential and attention. The good songs all appear towards the beginning and proceed in a sort of descending manner. Not to say there are bad songs, I hear underdeveloped songs. Overall, a triumph of a release full of all the familar themes from rock music over the last 30 years, back when alternative music was still called “college rock” and that’s all there was. We look forward to hearing more out of Matt Jaffe and The Distractions and will be looking to catch them out on the road somewhere out there in that vast, littered wasteland.