The Suitcase Junket | The End Is New | (Renew/BMG)
Four out of Five Stars
Matt Lorenz finds a decided mix of ambition, insurgency and intrigue on The End Is New, his sixth album under the unlikely handle of The Suitcase Junket. The moniker, chosen out of respect for his unusual habit of collecting old suitcases, points out the ambiguity of Lorenz’s steady approach, one given to ample use of symbolism, allegory and outward introspection. Producer Steve Berlin lends the effort the proper amount of insistence and urgency, but it’s Lorenz himself that instills the sense of gravitas in each of these eleven offerings. “Can’t Look Away,” a protest song of sorts lamenting the exploitation of the planet is an excellent example, one built around an incisive stomp and a resounding chorus. “But it’s just another human disaster, On the side of the modern road we’re on, and we can’t look away.”
In the sleeve notes, Lorenz describes the album as “a doom-folk love letter for the earth and us.” That’s certainly an ominous pronouncement, but one well asserted by the downcast disposition found in the turgid closing track “More,” the ache inscribed in the ballad “Light a Candle,” the didactic sound of “Last Man on the Moon,” and the assertive stance of “Rock Bottom.”
“The global climate crisis is the first thing that springs to mind, but it’s humans and other animals that I’m really worried about,” Lorenz replies when asked about what drives him to such deep despair. “The planet itself will be fine, we just won’t be able to survive here comfortably if we keep up our current pace of ‘growth and progress.’ I’ve always been an animal lover and I include humans on that list, despite our attempts to put ourselves somehow above the beasties in the order of things. We’re living on this lovely blue-green marble at a time when plant and animal life have evolved into some really stunningly beautiful designs, so my concern for the planet is directly tied to my selfish desire to continue existing on it with as many other animals as possible. Problem is, our excessive overuse of the earth’s resources is contributing to a mass extinction event on top of climate change. So if we don’t address the situation right now, we’re going to thrive ourselves off the planet along with all the other animals. I guess the short answer would be that I’m trying to reflect the world around me in my writing these days and this is what I see.”
It’s clear Lorenz is both an activist and an environmentalist, roles that he clearly takes to heart in terms of his writing and reflection. “Forests are the lungs of the planet,” he insists. “Wetlands are the liver and kidney. We need to conserve wild lands on a global scale or we’re all screwed. Except the billionaires. They’ll probably be fine either way.”
Nevertheless, he’s clearly intent on spreading the gospel about the need to protect and preserve the planet’s resources. And, by his own admission, The aptly titled The End Is New is his most emphatic effort yet.
“I think the writing is better, but that’s something you hope is true with every new effort,” he admits. “Sonically, it’s bigger and more cinematic than the earlier records. In terms of trajectory, I think we’re looking at a slowly spinning inner-space lemniscate orbit that warps slightly as it brushes the edges of the various moons in our solar system.”
That said, one might think his inspiration is obvious, but when asked how his music intersects with his muse, Lorenz acts as if he’s taken aback. “Whoa. My overall inspiration. Damn. That’s a big one. I’ll get back to you on that,” he replies, obviously unsure of how to respond. “The ideas come and go. I try to keep an open window for them so that when they show up, they don’t smack into the glass. Walking with my dog usually brings out the melodies and lyrical ideas, then sitting behind the rig and playing around and improvising new rhythmic bits brings in the feels and structure. The stories and songs themselves tend to show up in mysterious ways, but once you catch them it’s a matter of making sure they sound like they’re supposed to sound. (That sounded a lot better when I said it in my head by the way.) I guess my overall inspiration has to go to existence itself. That felt cheesy to say: ‘I’d like to thank Existence, my mentor, for everything they gave me, especially that little improbable spark of life. You know what I’m talking about!’ But for real, the earth, its inhabitants, this whole mess. There’s a lot to go on.”
Of course, adopting a handle like The Suitcase Junket can easily lead to ambiguity in and of itself. It was only natural then that one might wonder why he chooses to operate under that alias rather than his given name. Here again, Lorenz seems vague when offering his reply.
“I don’t really remember,” he insists. “Maybe I was saving my name for something special in the future? I think I liked the idea of the freedom that a band name would give the project or something. It sets the tone in a way that a given name may not. It’s like putting a lens on a camera or something. I sometimes question whether it was the right decision, because, unlike a camera lens, you can’t just pop off the name of your band and throw a new one on. I could’ve done worse though. I’m sure there’s a scrap of paper somewhere in a box in my attic with a list of very questionable band names that I almost used. Another upside is that if you have a band name, then all of your alter-egos can be a part of the group without it getting too weird. Right, Ronnie?”
Ultimately however, whether he likes it or not, the focus falls fully on him and him alone, given that he sings, writes the songs, plays guitar, provides most of the percussion and the bulk of the other instrumentation.
“I’d better be,” he answers when asked if he feels comfortable accepting the responsibility and pretty much the full focus of attention. “In the beginning it was hard. I was bad at banter and relied largely on improvisation when it came to speaking with the audience. That led to some very high peaks and low valleys, but being the only one on stage forced me to get better at communicating with audiences, and it turns out this can be a very important element of a show. I find that when you connect with people through humor and storytelling between songs they open up a little more, so that when you play your next tune you can really sink the hooks in and make them feel more deeply.”
Ultimately, Lorenz is hoping that listeners will book their proverbial ticket on The Suitcase Junket and join him in attempting to pave a path forward through both music and momentum. “I like the implication that people will listen to the album as a whole piece,” he suggests. “That’s how I intended it to be heard and it’s nice when folks dig in like that. I’m all for mixtapes and playlists, but I think it’s cool — no, important — to listen to albums at least once — no, twice — from top to bottom. I hope it leaves them feeling a mixture of doom and hope, joy and blue. I guess since it’s the most political, or even activist, writing I’ve done, I want people to be moved to action. Environmentally, globally, as a species, we’ve done wrong, but we can do better, so let’s do it.”