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Choking the Spaceman 

by ELIZABETH STRAUCH & r & & r & & lt;span class= & quot;dropcap & quot; & D & lt;/span & on't expect Matthew Gray to divulge much. Or give you a straight answer right away. It's likely that if you ask him what a "magic Christian" is, or where he got the inspiration to write his Lucy-in-the-sky-esque lyrics, his answers will sound like government code. "I just want to make it very clear that the spaceman is not choking the bunny," he explains regarding the artwork for Matthew and the Arrogant Sea's album, Family Family Family Meets the Magic Christian. "The bunny is choking the spaceman."

When talking to Gray, it's sometimes hard not to think you're being played for the fool. If you ask the hackneyed question about his musical influences, he may tell you that the entire band is obsessed with Slayer. "I'm wearing Slayer boxers right now, actually... yeah, I have a problem with being too honest in interviews."

It's not that he's trying to be difficult. If anything, he's modest about his talent, and his playfulness is how he manages to skirt around any explanation that could alter the listener's own interpretation. And as a listener, it kind of works -- there's something about Gray and his family band that keeps you skipping down a clever lyrical path, collecting tambourines, toy xylophones and "hippo-sized balloons" along the way.

Gray began collaborating with his brother Caleb four years ago, eventually adding their nephew, Jacob, to play drums and, just a year ago, collecting a couple of non-family members to complete the Arrogant Sea. Family Family Family Meets the Magic Christian is their first full-length vinyl, put out by Nova Posta Vinyl, a label co-owned by Robert Gomez and Midlake's Eric Pulido in Denton, Texas.

The album is full of swaggering beats, with a fair share of sparkling electronic effects. "Pretty Purple Top Hat" is as pretty as it is weird -- it's one that would make Brian Wilson drool and Wayne Coyne say, "Wait, is this one of mine?" "Mock Origami" brings to mind the percussive and vocal qualities of Fleet Foxes. The jungle-drums mayhem of "I Am No Snake" verges on the theatrical with its brief background monologues. And the lyrics, like those in "Last Time I Saw Jesus," grab you right off the bat: "The last time I saw Jesus, he was talking to Elvis Presley / He was laughing at all the zebras and laughing at how he sees us."

Then there's the live show. According to bass player Dave Howard, anything that may have sounded mellow and poppy on the recording morphs into an all-out rock-out session. "We love to play live," he says. "We just like to rock."

In the end, MATAS can't -- and shouldn't, really -- be pegged. Just float along with them. But maybe bring your own boat.


Matthew and the Arrogant Sea with the Farm Circle, Women, and Dane Ueland at Empyrean on Thursday, Nov. 7, at 7 pm. Price TBA. Call 838-9819.
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