Senior Matt Kitagawa’s debut CD, Thinking of You, recorded with Thurgood Marshall ‘08 alum and San Francisco State freshman Nate Dizon as the band Sunset Boulevard, is an album so compelling that, for fleeting moments, I forget about the less-than-professional recording equipment and the oft-crunchy Do-It-Yourself handicap that comes from self-producing a CD in high school (and selling it for $5 by the flagpole). But as the novelty of listening to a pop-based band from Lowell got old, I couldn’t ignore some of the other flaws that arose. In the end, Thinking of You is a typical first album from an aspiring musician: flawed, but filled with potential.
It was easy to sink into the idea that these songs weren’t written by a
guy with a guitar who has become a fixture by the science wing, but,
say, by an independent singer-songwriter in an awful apartment in the
Tenderloin who works two jobs to make ends meet, but still plays music.
Besides, there’s something endearing about the image of two guys
sitting around a computer monitor and cranking out 15 songs. While
Sunset Boulevard certainly doesn’t have the sound quality of a band
that works in-studio, it’s easy to accept the GarageBand aesthetic as
part of their charm.
Even though the audio becomes too rough at times, the instrumental
work is surprisingly good. The album hits its high point with the slow
folk-rock melody “One More Day,” when Dizon sings in a low, indie-rock
warble: “These broken hearts won’t pay the bills.” Okay, so I know that
lyric sounds a little silly on paper, but somehow it fits snugly into
The album’s weak points emerge when the songs are the poppiest and
brightest: Opener “I’ll Grow Into It” and the cleverly named “You
Do(n’t) Care” have great guitar riffs, but Kitagawa’s droning and
sensitive voice just doesn’t match up with the ferocity of the dubbed
Unfortunately, the album’s biggest flaw proves to be Kitagawa’s voice.
Though he has certainly has talent as a guitarist, and the record makes
it apparent that he and Dizon work well together, his vocals grate on
Kitagawa and Dizon’s lethargic vocals are mismatched on each and every
harmony. Sure, plenty of people have thrived in bands even with bizarre
voices: Bob Dylan, Of Montreal, etc. But these musicians boast catchy
and clever lyrics, not cliché lines like “I’ve got a million things to
say, but nothing’s coming out” from “Come Dance With Me,” or “I wanna
fall down, and leave this s--- to this town” from “You Do(n’t) Care.”
Later on, the album comes close to redemption with silly but
effective lines like “I can feel a connection breaking through these
walls (karate chop, oh yeah).” I might be exaggerating about this
(might), but for every line that succeeds, there are two that crash and
burn, and maybe one that crashes so hard that it leaves a crater.
Crash and burn: “A long time ago, there was a girl named… well, it
didn’t matter.” Crater’d: “I’ve got you in my arms, and our eyes are
At the heart of the album is an upbeat tone of infectious warmth and
optimism that joins the likes of Jason Mraz and other singer-songwriter
The problem with this is that Sunset Boulevard sounds all too much like
these other singer-songwriter fellows, and the band seems to be
experimenting with different genres throughout the album in an attempt
to find its own voice. “Come Dance With Me” sounds like a bad 80s
ballad, as a synth-y and echo-y guitar lazily accompanies an earnest
Kitagawa singing “Darling, darling, what do words really mean?” and the
trying-to-hard-too-be-dirty distortion-screeches of “Friend Zone” pine
for a spot on Billboard’s Modern Rock top 40.
Thinking of You may be a debut with problems: torturous singing, odd
production static and gimmicky, one-liner lyrics. As in, a typical