The New Amsterdams

Matt Pryor doesn’t like you. He doesn’t want to talk to you. He doesn’t want to hang out with you. But don’t hate him. Give the Get Up Kids’ singer/guitarist half an hour of your time, and he’ll gladly open his heart in song. On his second solo outing under the moniker the New Amsterdams, Pryor goes it alone. The first NA release utilized a crack backing band of Kids bassist Rob Pope and local stalwarts Alex Brahl and Jake Cardwell; on Para Toda Vida, Pryor strips his music to the bone, setting his forlorn musings to a minimalist backdrop of acoustic guitar with occasional splashes of keyboard and banjo. Call it Nebraska for the emo set. This strategy isn’t without merit: Pryor has never been much of a axeman, but as a vocalist, he’s undeniable — as instantly recognizable as anyone around. By bringing his voice to the fore, he showcases it for the instrument that it is, gnashing, keening and spitting his way through the tunes with unnerving precision.

Throughout Vida, Pryor goes for his own jugular, targeting his venom inward rather than directing it at others. On the Brahl-penned “Forever Leaving,” Pryor browbeats himself to a pulp, concluding with resignation that spending time alone is just much easier. This reclusive — and eventually tedious — attitude rears its head over and over again: I don’t want my picture in the paper, croons the notoriously press-shy Pryor in a song that takes its name from that line; Escape is the only way out, he laments on the opener, “My Old Man Had a Pistol.”

Fortunately, as with most dyed-in-the-wool cynics, Pryor is a romantic at heart. “Stay on the Phone” offers yet another of his patented grand fables, taking place at a greasy-spoon pay phone located somewhere on the lonely rock road. The song’s evocative lyrical imagery (rolls of dimes, a pissed-off waitress waiting impatiently in line) and Pryor’s seen-it-all performance render it an instant and effortless classic. Pryor also pays his respects with a gorgeous take on Kill Creek’s “All Ears,” using only the power of his voice to replicate the garage-band intensity of the original. But shunning the garage and the band in favor of whining in one’s bedroom is rarely the stuff of greatness, a maxim unchanged by this thirty-minute game of hide-and-seek. As an artistic indulgence, Vida lives up to its inherent pretensions. But as a listening experience, it’s nothing to write home about.

Categories: Music