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First came the end of Matt Popieluch’s marriage. Then came a period of rambling and travel. He rented out his house. Trimmed weed on a California farm. House-sat for a producer friend. Worked for a nonprofit soup kitchen in Hollywood. Wrote. Recorded. Created Slow Fascination. Produced by Rob Barbato (Kevin Morby, Girlpool, Cass McCombs) at Comp’ny studio in Glendale, CA, the album is an evocative examination of experiences. Slow Fascination was released on April 12, 2019, on 30th Century Records.

The album is audibly set in L.A., where Popieluch has lived for 14 years. The city — forever spinning in a seasonless time warp, invisibly hurtling toward some unnamed singularity — can mess with your head. The effect is palpable here. In some ways, the record feels like the interior monologue of someone who is straddling worlds, each song a blurry vision of golden brown. Work is never done. Days go by. Oh well.

The stirring album opener “Slow Motion Train” delves fearlessly into this romanticized confusion, building and warping listeners’ vision with each ringing note. According to Popieluch, the song is about “feeling detached from reality while being subjected to it; not knowing how to interact with the world from your dimension; how time passes without seasons.”

What’s even more bewildering is the song’s radical, instrumental fullness. Though best known for his 12-string guitar, here, Popieluch forgoes the usual for a harpsichord and analog synth — the great Dave Smith OB-6, to be exact — masterfully melding the two in a dizzy collision of past and future. It’s a fluid and eclectic wealth of sonic sensations, touching the likes of Jade Warrior, the Everly Brothers’ In Our Image, Paul McCartney, Brian Eno.

Lead single “Here Comes The Night,” too, can whirl a mental state into wonder. It’s an all-too-resonant ode to political anxiety, a post-election state in which both real and imagined catastrophe are constantly looming. Popieluch cites “the weather and the behavior of animals before a storm, being on the precipice of an unknown chasm” as driving elements in the song and elaborates, “it’s also about resistance.”

Both “Stillness in the Air” and “Wire Walker” transcend structure with stream-of-consciousness songwriting. The former, Popieluch envisioned in his sleep while traveling through Sweden and scribbled down in a jolt upon awakening. The latter, he affectionately calls “a dream journey.”

Lucky track number seven, however, diverges from the burst approach. “What To Say” is an exquisitely contained centerpiece, one of careful emotion and gentle hope. Its instrumentation is as stunning as its sentiment. Not often can an artist so honestly evoke Nick Drake. Never so casually. Popieluch claims it as a personal favorite and admits its roots in his break-up. He says it’s about “the time at the end, and the period of traveling that followed, and the questions you ask yourself in those situations.”

According to the singer, “It’s a reevaluation of what transpired through different eyes.”

Matt Popieluch’s history is peppered with musically diverse endeavors — from fronting Foreign Born to playing with Cass McCombs, Sky Ferreira, Fool’s Gold, and Papercuts among others — evidence of his distinguished skill as a player. Notable collaborators on his new album speak to the distinction he’s earned. Grizzly Bear’s Ed Droste, The Shins’ James Mercer, and Kacey Johansing among others make fervent contributions to an already lively collection.

On the album cover, Popieluch sits among waves of fog rolling over Mt. Tamalpais, his hat pulled snug over his eyes — perhaps reality’s glare is too blinding in that moment. But on Slow Fascination, the singer finds refuge, peace among the madness. The album as a whole, it sounds like getting comfortable being lost. It sounds like life being lived.

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