reviewed by Michael Thomas
Since Mathias Kom’s backup band for the Burning Hell more or less gelled a few years ago, Ariel Sharratt has become one of the other anchors of the project, thanks to her beautiful vocals and clarinet. So it’s only natural, before a new album from the Burning Hell drops next year, that Kom and Sharratt would release an album of duets. And here we are with Don’t Believe the Hyperreal.
Anyone familiar with Kom’s music should expect the punny title; it’s fully explained in the brilliant first single from the album, “Fuck the Government, I Love You.” The back-and-forth ditty narrates Sharratt and Kom meeting for the first time, and Kom fills the awkward silence of first meeting someone with a dream involving Jean Baudrillard and Public Enemy singing “Don’t believe the hyperreal.”
But while the Burning Hell’s hallmark is witty lyrics, that’s not the focus of this album (even if there are plenty of lyrical gems along the way). Sharratt and Kom prove that it’s possible to write an earnest album of ballads that don’t push the cheese factor into overdrive.
“Your Military” is the best example of this. Kom and Sharratt each narrate half of the song, about two potentially traumatic incidents that happened to the other person. Pretty guitar picking gives this song a surreal beauty and the specificity and realness of both situations make it perfectly acceptable that they want to be each other’s “ambulance,” “vigilante” or “police.” And then there’s “Every Song I Sing is For You.” equally earnest as Kom details all the people he doesn’t sing for, including, him, her and reviewers.
Elsewhere there’s plenty of beauty. I’ve talked before about how the Burning Hell and Blimp Rock are a match made in heaven, so it’s extra special that Sharratt and Kom covered “The Love That Treats You Right,” with the male and female vocal parts switched. “In the Future” is the kind of stream-of-consciousness song I imagine will become a full-band version on Burning Hell’s album next year, featuring references to dog-pun Christmas cards, pelicans wondering about why we exist and Jewish parables.
It ends with perhaps the most touching song of all, “Eugene and Maurice,” a tribute to author Maurice Sendak and his partner, psychoanalyst Eugene Glynn. It’s the only song sung solely by Sharratt, backed mostly by piano and condensing their lives into four minutes.
It’s okay to be passionate about things. Especially when that will turn into a duets album like this.
Top Tracks: “Fuck the Government, I Love You”; “Your Military”
Rating: Strong Hoot (Good)