Press "Enter" to skip to content

Stephen J. -Midwest in Mono

stephenjBand: Stephen J.
Album: Midwest in Mono
Best Element: Fluid, relaxing songwriting
Genre: Acoustic/Americana/Folk Rock
Label: Maritime Fist Glee Club
Band Email:

Close your eyes (figuratively of course). Let’s pretend for a moment that you are living in Chicago and working on a PhD. In your spare time you play guitar for three bands called Bosco and Jorge, Magic Lanterns and The Slow Planet, as well as working on a side project called Lake Girls. Whoa, that has to consume a good portion of your life. So what do you do in your free time? That’s right; you create a solo project called Stephen J. and release an album. You may now open your eyes and breathe a sigh of relief that you are not Matt Carson.

All of the time that Carson has spent playing for and contributing to other bands gives him valuable insight into his own work. This originality and ingenuity comes as a slap in the face on his debut album, Midwest in Mono. The album opens with “Sunday, 5 A.M.,” a short and comforting instrumental that fades seamlessly into “Big Blue House,” one of the less prominent tracks on the album. “Big Blue House” does, however, set down Carson’s vocal precedents for a relaxing and mellow performance. It is smooth like warm margarine, without losing any of the creaminess or texture of real butter (don’t ask).

“Master of None” and “Wings On,” two of the best tracks on the album, have perfectly fitting guitar melodies without any of the typical showiness. Carson’s song craftsmanship is impressive and completely fluid without ever faltering, best shown in one of the catchiest tracks, “Windmill Lounge.” But I guess everything can’t last forever. Suddenly Carson unveils “Letter (Never Sent),” a Bright Eyes-ish monologue mentioning an ex-casino pit boss, Vietnam veteran pot head juxtaposed with wine glasses and a mangled oboe solo. This is all done in good taste and, as a finished product, is absolutely beautiful to hear. But wait…there’s more! Carson’s alter-ego of sorts, Stephen J., has his own theme song. “Stephen J.” does not deviate from Carson’s desired path of laid-back style in any way. This gem closes with “Suitable for Framing,” a sleepy lo-fi track that makes you wish to spend the rest of the day napping.

This is definitely worth your time. Matt Carson has crafted a warm, good-humored monument to relaxation that gives far more than it takes and leaves you pounding your utensils on the table, demanding to be fed more.

Mark Pranger