Matthew Logan Vasquez’s New Album “Light’n Up” is His Heaviest (and Best) Work Yet
It’s no secret:
Personal struggle is the best fuel for a songwriter.
When everything is going well, creativity is incredibly difficult to find.
But in turmoil, great artists tend to ground themselves in their craft. And this usually results in their best writing.
A quick look at history shows this is the case:
Without Bob Dylan’s breakup with his then-wife Sara, we never would have heard Blood on the Tracks.
If Justin Vernon hadn’t moved to his father’s cabin in rural Wisconsin after his band broke up, For Emma, Forever Ago probably never would have been released.
And with his latest solo album, Light’n Up, due to be released February 22nd, Matthew Logan Vasquez writes about the struggles of an artist and father torn between his responsibilities to his fans and his family.
Matthew Logan Vasquez, best known as singer and guitar player of Delta Spirit, writes candidly about his decision to leave his central Texas home to be with his young son and wife’s family in Oslo, Norway.
A month before the family’s exit, Vasquez learns that his mother has been diagnosed with cancer.
And though the album covers many different subjects, from the Nashville music industry (Ghostwriters) to the struggles of growing up in a lower class family (Poor Kids), the tension of being in between two homes is the real creative force behind Light’n Up.
And this tension makes for some of the best music of Matthew Logan Vasquez’s career.
The album features Vasquez’s signature blend of different genres (from indie rock to 80s dance, folk singer/songwriter and electronic music) while he’s in his prime as a songwriter and lyricist.
Light’n Up, is the perfect mix between heavy and light; straightforward and poetic.
And as Vasquez’s best-sounding production to date, Light’n Up is sure to bring his signature blend of genre-bending and heart-on-sleeve songwriting to new fans.
Here are some highlights from the album:
Ballad in My Bed:
The album starts off with the folky, acoustic Ballad in My Bed.
With beautiful falsetto harmonies and fingerstyle guitar, Ballad in My Bed is dedicated to a lover:
“Gonna write you a song, you’re on the tip of my tongue
There’s nothing to protect with your legs around my neck
Yours is the side I’m on”
With the easy going guitar and poetic lyrics, Ballad in My Bed will be music to the ears of fans of Vasquez’s work with Taylor Goldsmith of Dawes and John McCauley of Deer Tick in the folk supergroup Middle Brother.
With blazing synth leads, rocking guitar chords, and a fast floor tom pulse, Trailer Park is a standout and the first single from Light’n Up.
Trailer Park also features some of the best lyrics and belted high notes of the whole album
It’s hard to find a better opening line to a song than:
“Pull over, it’s over
I forgot how to live in the city”
The lyrics are a tribute to Vasquez’s central Texas home of Wimberley, Texas.
And while Wimberley is only forty-five minutes outside Austin, there are some distinct differences.
“They’re all well armed, Jesus voted
Even our hippies are all cocked and loaded”
But Vasquez also reveres his new hometown and the people in it:
“Miles of hill country
Life is evergreen”
As a love letter to his home, the music video for Trailer Park was shot at Frank’s Full Moon Saloon, a local Wimberley bar featuring footage of the venue from the 90s and today:
Vacation is slated to be the second single released from Light’n Up.
At the time of writing, the video is still in production, but this much is clear: Vacation is sure to become a crowd favorite.
In this track, we see Vasquez experimenting with a more electronic and dancy sound.
The result is Vacation, a rockin’ dance song complete with glitchy electric guitar and head banging chorus:
“All of the time working hard for vacation
Ain’t got no time all the lives and relationships”
I Love My Boy
In the Beatles-esque I Love My Boy, the message of the album becomes clear:
“My baby is home but I’m not
They pay me to leave and slowly I rot”
In some of his most candid lyrics, the singer is torn between his responsibility to his art and his desire to be at home with his family.
I Love My Boy is Vasquez’s equivalent to John Lennon’s Beautiful Boy; a gift from father to son in the form of a song.
And with a piano-driven, sing-along chorus, Vasquez’s son is sure to feel very special:
“I love my boy, I love my boy
I wanna see his face, ‘cause I love my boy”.
Poor Kids is one of the most interesting songs on Light’n Up.
The low, durge-like organ and string arrangement in the production are reminiscent of some Beck songs.
And with dark lyrics and the highest vocal range of the album, Vasquez makes the listener feel the gravity of the situation facing a lower income family:
“Bankrupt embarrassment, the whole neighborhood knew
What poor kids do, growing up too fast”
Ghostwriters is another standout from Light’n Up.
This rockabilly and country rock tune seems to be a take on the Nashville music industry:
“Out there in Nashville got a system in place
Burt Reynolds lookalikes, ghostwriters for days
It’s all hat and no cattle
Those preppy punks just wanna battle to prove
Maybe they’re as tough as you”
And with a defiant chorus, the listener feels the exhilaration of saying no to the rigged music industry:
“I’m headed for the other side of living
No more struggle just slide away
They’ll forget me here but I left standing dear
I’m getting what I want they treat me like a pawn”
Oslo is probably the most candid song about the challenges currently facing Matthew Logan Vasquez.
Oslo has the feel of an old folk ballad, but the lyrics are a stark look at the situation that drove Vasquez to move from the place he obviously loved:
“I fell in love with an angel from the north
We were happy in Texas
We got news that her daddy was ill
So we plotted out our exit”
Things don’t get much more upbeat in the chorus, but the chords suggest an acceptance of the situation, as well as a determination to make the best of it:
“The sun sets so quickly here
Well does it even rise
The snow will melt then freeze again
Turning me into ice”
Oslo ends the album on a dark tone, but is a true reflection of the tensions that inspired the album in the first place.
Compared with his other solo albums, Light’n Up is one of Matthew Logan Vasquez’s strongest pieces of work to date because you can feel what’s at stake.
And being a Matthew Logan Vasquez album, it features all the genre-bending songwriting that we’ve come to expect from him.
But in Light’n Up we also find a writer who knows how to turn his personal turmoil into art.
And he’s making the best of it.
Matt Ramsey is a blogger and vocal coach at Ramsey Voice Studio.