To hear something called ‘adult contemporary rock’ is descriptive enough to conjure a fairly precise expectation of what the music will be like. That is surprising too, considering the only musician I know of who has ever adopted this seemingly contradictory style has been Peter Matuchniak, a progger-turned-soft-rocker (or is it the other way around?) I’ve had the pleasure of knowing for a couple of years now. While his work with Gekko Project fell into the realm of true-to-conventions prog rock, his unassuming solo debut Uncover Me was a more appealing and personal statement. Following it up with Destiny, Peter’s second dive into solo work shares many of the same strengths and weaknesses as the first. The music benefits from a feeling of ‘coffee shop’ variety intimacy you don’t often hear in soft rock, but severe issues with the beyond-sterile production on Destiny are more than enough to hold the album back.
The musicianship on Destiny is certainly capable, but there isn’t much of an impression they’re playing together as a band. Peter’s production is remarkably clear and well-mixed, but there is something about the way it comes together that doesn’t set right. There is plenty musicianship and experience to go around on Destiny, but where is the chemistry? Where is the organic interplay that should go with the territory? The production and multi-layered arrangements earn points on technical grounds, but there’s no magic in the combined result. Granted, with today’s largely digital home recording standards, it’s easy to fall into this hole. With the fortunate exception of Matuchniak’s guitar solos (which carry fitting resonance), it sounds as if the instruments were recorded in a closet one at a time with no direct collaboration between the musicians, only to be cut-and-pasted into the end result. The unfeeling execution isn’t enough to damn Destiny entirely, but Peter and his friends are good musicians, and deserved to be heard in a better context.
One part of the sound that escapes the shortfalls of the instrumentation are the vocals. There is a certain warmth inherent to the human voice that, when sung with feeling, cannot be robbed by the most antiseptic production. Peter Matuchniak is a vocalist that acknowledges the limitations of his range, and makes the best of it regardless. There is a plain charm to his subdued performance that befits mellowed music like this more than a bombastic frontman ever could. The lyrics (which tend to revolve around a familiar apprehension towards modern society) are most often cheesy, but it’s hard to make an issue of that when they’re sung with passion (that, they are.) The only major gripe with the vocals comes in the form of a sort of spoken word mode Peter likes to go into per occasion; it’s pretty awful, and sounds like a sleep-deprived Lou Reed talking to a mirror in preparation for a half-baked beat poetry night. Even that might be making it sound more interesting than it is. Mixing singing with spoken word is most often a recipe for disaster, and this is certainly no exception.
The biggest joy on Destiny are actually the female ‘guest’ vocalists; Natalie Azerad and Peter’s daughter Alyssa. Alyssa Matuchniak is a boon to the band’s sound; she sounds like a one-woman gospel choir, vocalizing behind the instrumentation to some great effect. Natalie Azerad’s voice is showcased on the song “Spies”, an exotic jazzy piece that ranks up with the best tunes the album has to offer. Hearing the vocorder’d female voice on “Go Slow” made for a pleasant surprise as well.
Even though Peter Matuchniak has networked within prog circles (his Gekko Project was indisputably proggy in nature) it would be a real stretch to call most of Destiny prog to begin with. The ‘adult contemporary rock’ term Peter labels his music with rings true in the slow, consonant mood of the songs. The fact that the last three tracks comprise a fourteen minute prog rock suite seems to clash directly with the rest of the album. In any case, I’m glad it did. “Reprisal”, “Chaos”, and “Victory” go a long ways towards redeeming the otherwise somnolent atmosphere on the rest of the album. While the performance doesn’t quite escape the ‘cut- and-paste’ impression, the suite goes a hell of a greater ways to exposing the instrumentalists as great musicians.
In some ways, the prog suite comes too late to the party. Even past the lack of warmth in the production, I wonder if the typical songwriting might be too smooth, too mellow to have kept my full attention. Destiny does not appear to go out of its way to impress, nor does it. There is good material here, but the problems are profound enough to make it a mixed success at best. Even so, none of these issues are necessarily inherent to the art of Peter Matuchniak and his friends; heard live, I don’t imagine musicians with their good intention and sincerity would have a hard time creating feeling in me if I ever saw them live. I hope I get the chance someday.
4. Oyster Club
6. Go Fast
7. Go Slow
* Peter Matuchniak – guitar
* Steve Bonino – bass & vocals
* Scott Connor – drums & vocals
* Paul Mouradjian – keyboards
* Natalie Azerad – lead vocals
* Alyssa Matuchniak – vocals
* Ted Zahn – vocals
* Jojo Nakano – sax
* David Gilman – clarinet