Simpático - The Difference Between Alone & Lonely

matcd016  /  March 2002
Simpático - The Difference Between Alone & Lonely
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Simpático - The Difference Between Alone & Lonely

matcd016  /  March 2002

Debut full length from prolific and accomplished Sweet William vocalist and guitarist Jason Sweeney and his band Simpático. Following the critical success of the "Postal Museum" EP last year, Simpático was immersed in listening to records by Sea Stories, the Triffids, Rabbit's Wedding and other brilliant Australian bands from the 80's and early 90's. This album is a dedication to that sound-warm, summery and melancholic tunes that reflect the harsh and dramatic Australian landscape matched with a longing and desire for lost loves. "The Difference Between Alone & Lonely" features twelve new tracks blending the strongest songwriting of Jason's career with masterful keyboards, perfectly strummed guitars and that oh-so-dulcet voice. Intelligent, pastoral pop with an occasional electronic edge suitable for fans of the Wake, Pale Saints, Go Betweens, and Trembling Blue Stars.

  1. Let Him Go
  2. Drove It Down
  3. School Life
  4. Arrogance
  5. Shelved
  6. Street Talk
  7. Urgency
  8. His Goodbye Echoes
  9. Spin
  10. Carrying Photographs
  11. Preciously Inside
  12. Cold Season


There's no doubting Australian native Jason Sweeney's songwriting abilities. He's proven them time and again with the prolific project Sweet William. Now he's on his own and following up his first EP with his debut full-length, on which he plays every instrument. Even more so than all the previous material I've heard from him, Simpatico's full-length fits with me amazingly well and borders on a work of genius. What is it that makes this album so good? For one thing, Sweeney's vocals are perfect: warm and emotional yet not distracting or overpowering, and they're often mixed into the mix so they possess an instrumental quality. Overtop, Sweeney mixes rather jangly electric guitar that evokes a more folky Bob Mould, light but well developed drumming, and warm atmospherics. There's an electronic feel to this too, whether through the percussion or the atmospherics, but it lends these songs a unique flare. The album starts off with the warm and enveloping "Let Him Go," which combines moody vocals mixed deep into the mix with stellar guitars for a shimmering effect. From there, the songs take on a more melancholy feel. "Drove it Down" has a longing feel, as Sweeney sings "trying my best … but I'm trying too hard" behind that wonderful guitarwork that stands on its own and some unique percussion. Perhaps my favorite song is the more intense "Arrogance," which uses the vocals and guitars for a layered, swirling effect that somehow builds through repetition and background to a more intense feel. It's contrasted by the lighter, more shiny-feeling "Shelved." On "Urgency," Sweeney's computer becomes his back-up vocalist, adding mechanized vocals mixed low in the mix for a very cool effect that adds to the song's somewhat Belle & Sebastian-y pop feel. The slower, darker tone of "Carrying Photographs" breaks up the album a bit, but it's contrasted by the more up-beat and rhythm-heavy "Preciously Inside," which has that great jangly guitar and lyrics like "But I'm not able to hold him in my arms … or keep him preciously inside." If anything, my only problem with Simpatico is that the vocals are so hard to pick out. Countless listens only garner me snippets of Sweeney's exquisite songwriting. That's not a major problem, however, as I'm used to music where people scream incoherently. Here, Sweeney's warm voice provides another musical accompaniment to his truly unique guitar style and organic/electronic rhythm. It's a fascinating mix, and it's one that instantly endears me to this album.   --Delusions of Adequacy
After hearing the debut release from Simpatico about a year ago it would not be an understatement to say that I could hardly wait for the arrival of a full length. 'The Postal Museum EP' was a rather special record, and combined a sense of melody and an obvious appreciation of the finest music that the indiepop scene has to offer, with a hint of melancholy and subtly clever, thought provoking lyrics. What more could you ask for in a record, huh? After that I got my hands on a copy of the first two singles from Sweet William, the previous group of the man behind Simpatico, Jason Sweeney, and that began my obsession with Jason’s music and with the Matinée label itself. Since then Jason has released a split single with the Pines (another group with a new record out recently!), which while perhaps slightly less powerful, was by no means weak. If you want to know a little more about him, an interview can be found in the archives pages. There will be another one next month, in which I’ll be discussing the new record. So on to the new album, and what can I say? This is a fantastic record, and thoroughly enjoyable. Like all Jason’s music it is not instant. It took me quite a few plays to really get into it, but it was well worth the effort. The sound is a little warmer, and fuller than on the EP. In his interview last year, Jason talked at length of his love for Australian indiepop bands, and that dedication is borne out here, with a warm, beautiful sound prevalent on most of the tracks. He continues to use a combination of acoustic guitars and drum machines, but also adds some electric guitars and effects. The album really shines in this elevated setting, and he is beginning to move away from the cheap indie sound that he has favoured in the past. For the most part however, the music is relatively simple in terms of instrumentation. Jason challenges the listener more with quite odd song structures and his vocals. The latter have drawn comparisons to Morrissey in the past, but I can’t see why. His vocals are delivered really quietly, but pleasantly. They sort of remind me of an in tune Stuart Murdoch, although Jason has an Australian accent. These vocals are one of the album’s real strengths. Where this album really triumphs, however, is in its sense of inventiveness. My impression is that Jason has decided that cult appeal within the indiepop scene is all well and good, but that he is capable of music that achieves genuine greatness. There is a great deal of variety, both in musical style (which ranges from drawn out slow paced tracks that focus on mood over melody, to melancholic pop tunes like the brilliant 'Urgency') and in the lyrics. If you like anything on the Matinée label or you like bands like Belle and Sebastian, Stereolab, early REM, and the Spanish Amanda then you will simply love this. There is no doubt that this is my favourite record of the year to date, and that it is compulsive listening. Make space in your CD rack now!   --Pennyblack Magazine
I'm feeling particularly smitten by this latest offering from Australian native (and driving force behind Simpático) Jason Sweeney -- so smitten that I'm looking into picking up everything his previous band, Sweet William, ever did. Sweeney's first full-length release to date (he churned out an EP last year, along with a 7" or two), The Difference Between Alone & Lonely builds on his previous recordings, using the same sort of electronic drum beats and keyboards and Morrissey-like vocals, but adding a couple of surprises. Simpático gleans inspiration from Australian pop of the '80s and '90s -- in particular the music of Rabbit's Wedding and Sea Stories. While Sweeney never strays too far from all things somber, he adds a larger-than-average portion of sunshine to several of the songs, creating a unique (albeit calm) summertime vibe that's sure to prod many listeners into napping in hammocks on a lazy summer day. At its core, The Difference Between Alone & Lonely truly is a perfect summer album; it's not music for drinking margaritas to at a pool party, but songs to savor while taking a long drive or drinking a beer on your front porch...preferably alone. In "Let Him Go", the message isn't particularly uplifting; however, with the line, "The time in your life when you've got all you need but the thing you find missing," Sweeney's treatment of the otherwise depressing lyrics helps to create a peaceful mood rather than a life-completely-sucks mindset. Between his deep, clear vocals and simple guitar work, everything sounds so damn pretty that even the most depressing songs will create a haze of quiet self-contentment rather than eliciting tears. It's this sort of distinction that leads me to compare Simpático to the likes of Red House Painters -- both acts set chilling words to beautiful music, but as undeniably melancholy as they are, neither one makes me want to jump off a bridge. There's a fine line between melancholy and depression. Sweeney dances artfully around that line, coaxing the most exquisite pleasures from the bluest of moods, but never crosses into full-on downer territory. His sadness will be your quiet delight.   --Splendid
Then there's Simpatico. Essentially the project of ex-Sweet William auteur Jason Sweeney, Simpatico makes the sounds that you'd get if you imagined the Field Mice making if their world were filled with more of a heat haze than a steady light drizzle. Or Brighter if they had only had a little more guts to them (but only a little). The Difference Between Alone and Lonely (Matinée/Gifted) is a fine collection of almost empty songs; there's lots of space between drum machines and guitars here, lots of room for the echoing vocals to weave their melancholic strains. And if it all sounds a bit forced at times, well, that's just part of the deal, is part of what I mean by the suburban middle-classes' self-inflicted angst. Filled to the brim with the love of melancholy, topped up with a celebration of isolation and peppered with the tears of a clown, Simpatico is the sound of someone flailing in their own emptiness, desperate to both leave it behind and to stay locked inside it forever.   --Tangents
So this is the long-awaited debut cd from Jason Sweeney (previously prolific with Sweet William and Other People's Children) and Simpático, and I'd have to say that it's probably his best work yet. I really liked his earlier EP, "Postal Museum" (not to mention his two prior cassette-only releases on Best Kept Secret and In A Lighthouse), and this is along those same lines: pastoral bedroom pop with his somber vocals. In a way, it's reminiscent of early Magnetic Fields, but also shares more than a few similarites with the Field Mice, Trembling Blue Stars, and the Wake. The sound is focused as much on the keyboard as on the strummy clean electric guitar, with a drum machine backbeat - kind of like the exact median between his two prior bands. The lyrics are as melancholic as the music (not like you couldn't already guess that from the title), and have the same sort of longing that you'd feel on a Famous Boyfriend record. MTQ=11/12   --IndiePages
Simpatico is the solo project of Sweet William singer Jason Sweeney. As with most releases on the fine Matinée label, Simpatico calls to mind the sweet sound of Sarah Records and other labels whose speciality is melancholy indie pop. If you had to play the standard rock critic comparison game, saying Simpatico is the Field Mice having tea with Brighter at the Razorcuts' flat would be pretty close to dead on. That is pretty heady company, and while Simpatico is not quite on that level, they come close without being too derivative. The 12 songs on The Difference Between Alone & Lonely are sad, sad, and, just for a change of pace, unhappy. Sweeney's voice is heartbroken: he sounds dejected and close to tears throughout. The songs are all minor-key, mid-tempo love-lost songs with programmed drums, synths, and quietly strummed guitars forming a nicely subdued backing. Perhaps the backing is a touch too restrained, as the main thing keeping this from being a very strong album is a certain sameness from track to track. Apart from that minor flaw, this is a good record to curl up with on a sad night and revel in your melancholy.   --All Music Guide
If Jason Sweeney sleeps, it clearly can't be for more than a few seconds a day. Simpático is another of his various musical projects (along with Other People's Children, Sweet William, Pretty Boy Crossover and about 400 others), and in some ways is his most rewarding effort yet. While his material lies somewhere between Stephin Merritt's self-reflective moments in The Magnetic Fields (especially on the simple, effective School Life) and Robert Forster at his most strum-heavy, 'The Difference Between Alone & Lonely' drips with home-recorded charm. Arrogance powers along on a hypnotic single chord, while Let Him Go is a swirling lo-fi waltz. However, speaking as someone who's followed Sweeney's career with great interest over the past decade, what's best of all is that he's finally given a home to some of the marvelous, hitherto-unrecorded pop songs that Sweeney wrote for early '90s Adelaide indie-popsters The Millards with new versions of Drove It Down, Preciously Inside and the gorgeous Spin. It's small, it's cute, and doesn't outstay it's welcome. This is a record you have no excuse not to own.   --dB Magazine
Simpatico's latest album spells everything out in its titles: The Difference Between Alone and Lonely, "His Goodbye Echoes," "Cold Season." These are pop ballads about being left behind, having to leave someone, dealing with emptiness, isolation, desire, infatuation and lost love, and feeling hopeless and alone. It's a trip inside a soul, with all the questions, conflicts and stories therein. There's also some exceptional songcraft: Jason Sweeney, who also records as Sweet William and Other People's Children, has a gift at writing low-key, melodic songs with a 1980s tinge, as drum machines and synth meet guitar and voice. There's subtly here; the guitar, for example, delicately scales the walls, beautifully echoing his sentiments. Unrequited love, heartbreak and loneliness have been themes for music forever, but Simpatico dives further into them than most artists do, getting seriously into tales of people looking at old photographs and crying themselves to sleep.   --Erasing Clouds
Simpático may hail from Australia, but their crisp, crystalline guitar/keyboard-pop smacks of ‘80s Brit-indie acts such as The Field Mice, June Brides, Orange Juice, and others from the woefully-overlooked C-86, Postcard label, and Sarah Records scenes. Prime mover Jason Sweeney’s mildly melancholic, but breezy delivery imbues The Difference… with a pensive urgency, underpinned by a swiftly programmed rhythm section. Like some of the aforementioned, Simpático have a tendency to get a bit repetitive, especially when the album is digested in its entirety, however this album will easily win the hearts of hip Anglophiles and fans of everyone from The Go-Betweens to Trembling Blue Stars.   --The Big Takeover Magazine
This kind of indie-pop stands or falls, I believe, on its ability to create atmosphere, to hook you into its world and hold you there, convince you. When it fails it's just a drum machine, a guitar, and a bloke singing about sexuality. No matter what he says you're just not interested, you're not involved. When it succeeds, however, you're carried into the parched outback on the sleeve. Distance unfurls itself before you, the sun prickles on your arms, your lips crack with the dryness, and you're on your way into the world of Simpático. Too, you sympathise/empathise with his pain and vulnerability. You realise that the quiet living realm of Australian masculinities between the showy stereotypical polarities of the brick-shithouse sheep-sheerers of Sunday Too Far Away and the pantomime dames of Sydney's rainbow quarter, is probably an oppressed majority longing to find its expression. ... In 'Arrogance' you hear the faint rumbling of a great southern hemisphere group of the past: The Bats. In 'Street Talk' and 'Let Him Go' you're reminded of a couple Sarah Records acts: Blueboy, Gentle Despite and that. And 'Carrying Photographs' is the highlight.   --Wide Open Road