THE SUITCASE JUNKET
The latest album from The Suitcase Junket, Mean Dog, Trampoline is populated by characters in various states of reverie: leaning on jukeboxes, loitering on dance floors, lying on the bottoms of empty swimming pools in the sun. Despite being deeply attuned to the chaos of the world, singer/songwriter/ multi-instrumentalist Matt Lorenz imbues those moments with joyful wonder, an endless infatuation with life’s most subtle mysteries. And as its songs alight on everything from Joan Jett to moonshine to runaway kites, Mean Dog, Trampoline makes an undeniable case for infinite curiosity as a potent antidote to jadedness and despair.
Produced by Steve Berlin (Jackie Greene, Rickie Lee Jones, Leo Kottke) of Los Lobos, Mean Dog, Trampoline marks a deliberate departure from the self-recorded, homespun approach of The Suitcase Junket’s previous efforts. In creating the album, Lorenz pulled from a fantastically patchwork sonic palette, shaping his songs with elements of jangly folk, fuzzed-out blues, oddly textured psych-rock. Engineered by Justin Pizzoferrato (Dinosaur Jr., Speedy Ortiz) and mixed by Vance Powell (Jack White, Houndmouth), Mean Dog, Trampoline rightly preserves The Suitcase Junket’s unkempt vitality, but ultimately emerges as his most powerfully direct album so far.
The follow-up to 2017’s Pile Driver, Mean Dog, Trampoline takes its title from a lyric in “Scattered Notes From A First Time Home Buyers Workshop,” a brightly tumbling folk romp built on ramshackle rhythms and jeweled guitar tones. “I found the notes I’d taken during a first-time homebuyers workshop years ago and they were completely incomprehensible, so I decided to put them into a song,” says Lorenz, an Amherst, Massachusetts-based artist who’s made music under the name of The Suitcase Junket since 2009. “Mean dogs and trampolines are two things insurance companies really hate,” he adds.
Throughout Mean Dog, Trampoline, The Suitcase Junket explores everyday dangers of all kinds, infusing each track with his idiosyncratic storytelling and effusive vocal presence. With its restless melodies and tender intensity, the album-opening “High Beams” offers an up-close look at an unsteady romance (sample lyric: “She was pacing like a raging bull /With a heart half full of hurt, half full of doubting/And like everything I thought I had/It turned half bad before I got to think about it”). A more playful reflection on romantic confusion, “Everything I Like” conjures a happily punch-drunk mood from its bouncy groove and Billy Joel references. “It’s about a relationship where you can’t quite understand each other but sometimes there’s a little clarity—like when a song you both love comes on the radio and all of a sudden everything clicks into place and feels fresh and right,’” says Lorenz. Elsewhere on Mean Dog, Trampoline, The Suitcase Junket shifts into heavier terrain, with “Dandelion Crown” instilling a warm empathy into its loving and nuanced portrait of addiction. “That song came from thinking about how you can lose control of your life by degrees, until you don’t even recognize yourself anymore,” says Lorenz. “But there’s still a little redemption in there—those moments when things become sweet and clear again, despite the fact that you’re permanently changed as a person.”
From song to song, Mean Dog, Trampoline shows the sharply imaginative musicality that Lorenz’s honed since he was a kid. Growing up in Cavendish, Vermont, he began playing piano at age five, and later took up violin, saxophone, and guitar. During his time at Hampshire College he studied music and adaptive instrument design (a pursuit that included, as Lorenz explains, “building a prototype for a drummer who couldn’t use their legs, where they’d be able to play the bass drum and hi-hat through a system of pulleys”). After college, he headed to Europe on a $150 plane ticket, ran out of money in Barcelona and spent a year playing music in the streets. “That’s where I learned how to sing loud, which got me figuring out what my voice could do,” Lorenz notes. Once he’d returned to Amherst, he formed the band Rusty Belle with his sister Kate and, several years later, started The Suitcase Junket with the aid of a guitar he’d found in a dumpster. “It only sounds good in open tuning, so from the beginning The Suitcase Junket was defined by limitation,” says Lorenz. “The idea was, ‘Well, you can’t play all those fancy chords you used to play, so what are you gonna do now?’”
With its name nodding to Lorenz’s longtime love of collecting old suitcases (including an antique that he’s refurbished into a bass drum) and to a secondary definition of junket (i.e., “a pleasure excursion”), The Suitcase Junket reveals all the warmth and wildness to be found within such limitation. Not only proof of his ingenuity as a songmaker, that improbable richness is ineffably bound to Lorenz’s purposeful fascination—an element he alludes to in discussing one of his most beloved tracks on Mean Dog, Trampoline, the gloriously clattering “Stay Too Long.” “I’m the kind of person who wants to stay around till the very end of whatever’s happening,” Lorenz says of the song’s inspiration. “Whether it’s a party or something else, I always want to know how it ends. Even if it’s probably gonna be a total disaster, I want to be there to see it all.”