What the hell is Matt Costa doing on Jack Johnson’s Brushfire Records? Everything about his music should be the anti-Jack Johnson, the personification of California’s oxymoronic laid-back image. Costa’s work on his latest album, Mobile Chateau, is laced with ’60s psych and folk, practically sprawling with sporadic interpretations of tripped out kaleidoscopic sounds in the key of the 13th Floor Elevators. But the potential berserk awesomeness of this is whitewashed by Johnson’s mundane influences, along with a handful of issues that stem from Costa’s own faults.
Though the production on Mobile Chateau was left in Costa’s hands for his first time, the scorch marks of Brushfire persist. The sound is tinted so much by the lazy gaiety of the label’s founder that the title track has crickets in the background. On “Strings Of Change,” Costa just sounds like the hammock-dwelling Johnson that’s been jamming out lulling west coast songs for years, but he masks this similarity with his lo-fi Dylan-like vocals.
Costa is at his strongest on Mobile Chateau when he’s at his most believable. The lax folk-like tunes feel as if they’re being forced out, but there are times on the album when he seems to be exactly who he is: a lover of ’60s music. Take the charming ditty “Drive” for example. It’s a charming little poppy piano piece with a fab four chorus. Sure it’s cliché. In fact, it might even be a bit silly in its naive devotion to its forerunners and its lyrical content. But through all of this, I believe Costa. The song has a charisma that’s lacking on many of his other songs.
Throughout the rest of the album, I keep seeking for another flash of air-headed, silly fun, but it’s just not there. Instead we get moping and sappy numbers like “Painted Face,” which would put me to sleep with its trancelike guitar repetition if not for some pretty surreal lyrics. Costa reflects bitterly on personal identity with his words, but when painted on a canvas of drowsy cyclical guitar strings, the song looses its meaning and instead forces my mind and eyelids shut. The same can be said for much of the album.