Introduced with the chanting of “yes we can” and a brief clip of President Obama’s words of encouragement to the nation, Mat Burke’s debut full-length Kill or Be Killed begins. Given the subject matter of the title track, perhaps the song is untouchable, but the rest of the nine-song album unfolds in a similar fashion.
Instrumentation is consistently overpowered by Burke’s voice; possibly the only thing that competes sonically is the acoustic guitar present throughout, which grows tiresome after the first few songs in its folk ballad manner.
Kill or Be Killed was recorded at SubCat Music Studios near Syracuse, and maybe Burke intended for his own vocals to take the lead, but you wonder what other musicians could do with this artist if given the chance.
The album runs through quickly, but it’s forgettable. Though the title “Scars, Punks and Drunks” sounds like the promise of something you can sink your teeth into, it falls short as another harmonica ditty paired with acoustic. There is a little variation in “Dawn of a New Revolution,” in which the acoustic patters over a drawling electric guitar, but it’s short-lived. A little bit of country sneaks up and attacks the following “When it Rains, It Pours,” the token twangy track, and then it’s on to “Patches of Reality” with its disorienting alarm-like sound blaring for a minute into the song.
The high point might be “Someone to Walk with Me,” a track dominated by other instruments until a pretty acoustic solo breaks in.
This Philadelphia transplant is a decent vocalist not without talent and not without a lot of good influences (the guy listens to a hell of a lot of Dylan), and it appears as though an earnest effort was made from the first track to the last. It’s just the redundancy of the melodies and the often cringe-worthy lyrics, like “I saw the rain fall down your face on the ferris wheel at night” in “Nice Guys Finish Last.”
Maybe Burke was just getting warmed up with his first full album. Maybe he puts on an incredible live show—you can find out for yourself July 11 at The Boro—but Kill or Be Killed just seems like a practice run.