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Matt Costa: upbeat about feeling down

January 31, 2008|August Brown

HERE'S some relationship advice from singer-songwriter Matt Costa: If you want to stay with your girlfriend of six years while making a new album, hold off on writing tunes such as "Bound," a lament of being trapped in the mandibles of a she-devil straight out of blues lore.

"If you write a song like that, the girl's probably going to leave you," Costa sheepishly says. "My songs always seem to foretell what's going to happen to me."

You can hardly blame a woman for asking tough questions about lines like "A guy gets lonely, a guy gets sick / Evil woman, you're bound to make a mess of it." But Costa did his best to soften the blow -- overall, "Unfamiliar Faces" is the most upbeat album about crippling dependency you'll likely hear all year. The sophomore effort from the 25-year-old Huntington Beach folkie is brimming with vivid, desperate depictions of painkiller addiction in the wake of his career-realigning skateboard accident ("Trying to Lose My Mind"), semester-abroad heartbreak ("Vienna") and keeping the ER on speed dial ("Emergency Call").

The music that carries these stories is picaresque folk-pop buoyed by Costa's almost campy yelps. Though he's signed to uber-chill singer-surfer (and unlikely Coachella headliner) Jack Johnson's Brushfire Records, and produced by No Doubt guitarist Tom Dumont, the folk-pop thicket of "Faces" owes more to creaky English folk and cockeyed American indie-pop than either of his mentors.

"I like songs that are upbeat and make you feel good, but I can't write without a sense of melancholy," Costa said. "There needs to be something sad happening for me to write."

He's had little to be sad about lately. Since his 2005 debut, the brittle and reserved "Songs We Sing," Costa's wunderkind status has risen considerably. He's played nearly all the big-tent festivals (including a well-received 2006 Coachella set), and had the unlikely vantage point of learning how to write a follow-up record from some of alt-pop's best. "I did a tour with Modest Mouse, and Isaac Brock and I hit it off," Costa said. "I played him this song I was working on, and he said I should repeat this one line over and over. It didn't work there, but I tried it on the next song I wrote and it became 'Mr. Pitiful.' "

Costa seems to have a politician's sense of being all things to all people in his songwriting -- hummable enough for love-struck beach bums yet skewed enough for indie kids. It's a tough trick to pull off, but Costa feels as if he's done it before, and not just for suspicious girlfriends.

"I've had so many different personalities throughout the ages," Costa said. "This is only one that's manifested itself in the last couple decades. Maybe next time I'll come back as a piece of paper."

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-- August.Brown@latimes.com

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MATT COSTA

WHERE: Troubadour, 9081 Santa Monica Blvd., West Hollywood

WHEN: 8 p.m. Fri. and Sat.

PRICE: $18 (sold out)

INFO: (310) 276-6168

ALSO: April 24 at Orange County Performing Artscenter. $20. (714) 556-2787

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