Artist: The Smith Street Band
Album: Throw Me in the River
Release Date: October 28th 2014 (North America), October 31st (Europe and Australasia) and November 3rd (UK)
When The Smith Street Band formed in 2010, they were originally known as Wil Wagner and the Smith Street Band to the residents of their home town of Melbourne. However, as the band started to write more coherently they underwent the metamorphosis to just The Smith Street Band in 2012, symbolic of their newly found whole-band writing style.
Between the 31st October, and the 3rd November, the band are due to release their third studio album by the name of Throw Me in the River across the world, on American label SideOneDummy. The record follows their previous efforts No One Gets Lost Anymore, and Sunshine and Technology, as well as two EPs; Don’t Fuck With Our Dreams and South East Facing Wall.
The first single from the new album is a track by the name of Surrender. The track opens very melodically, and an experimental, light-bubbly riff on the guitar is injected into a clean but aggressive flurry of power chords. There are plenty of opportunities for the shout-along in the chorus: “You don’t have to surrender, if you don’t want to.” It has the potential to be anthemic and makes a lot of sense to be the lead single for the record. There are also opportunities for a head-bang in the latter half of the song, following the main chorus where the track starts to up its game, and there are a plethora of opportunities for a drum-along on the kitchen table.
Wagner’s voice is not very obviously Australian, and at times sounds, understandably very British, most comparably similar to Frank Turner, and at other times like he’s singing straight out of a basement in the American Mid-West. His sound slots nicely into the reformed genre of American punk. For those of us that like this wave of music, that like The Menzingers, The Gaslight Anthem, or Restorations, it is pleasant to come across another artist that slides neatly into our playlists or our iPods. However, for those of us that have been searching for something new and exciting there are times that this track sounds like nothing more than the latest single from that band that we all already know and love.
In fact, it was Calgary Girls, the fourth track on the album, that made me take out the metaphorical notepad and jot the name of the track down so I could revisit it for the second, and the third, and the fourth time. It’s very carefully and deliberately constructed; the chords in the intro are distantly pitched with bass-lines that can only really be appreciated through headphones, whilst the accompanying lead guitar is the sort of simple genius that will excite all guitarists listening to this track, thinking ‘I could play this!’.
One of my favourite things and greatest strengths of this track, as well as many others on the album is the absolute honesty conveyed in the lyrics. I always believe that songs can be good, but when the writer hides nothing, and lets you feel what he’s feeling, it adds something extra to the song, makes it something more relative. Lines such as “I took these hand-me-downs and I flipped the colours inside out, and I pretend that I’m different now, and the first time we made love, it was dark and we were drunk…” and “If this is the first of many, then turn back around…” are repeat-offenders throughout this release, superficially simple, but with metaphors hidden around the corner. If you’re listening to this album in a rocking-out mentality, then there’s something simple to be enjoyed in the groove alone, but if you’re feeling more contemplative, there’s a whole other layer to the story. It’s the sort of track that stays fresh with each listen because you’re given the chance to discover something new every time.
With a lengthy narrative title that takes a leaf out of Against Me!’s book, The Arrogance of the Drunk Pedestrian is another one of the key tunes on this album. It’s just one of those song titles, that before you even hear the track, you start reflecting on yourself shamefully. It opens almost as if it is shaping up to be an Americana punk song, with deep bass notes that are harmonised by the shaking of your own heartstrings, and emotive licks on the lead guitar that are dreamy and summery. Wagner’s vocals wouldn’t sound out-of-place on a Restorations track, and tells the story of a seedy drunken underworld. As the song drives on slowly, gently towards the chorus, the cracks and wavers in Wagner’s voice start to break your heart. You can hear the tiredness in his voice at first, but towards the chorus, you can hear the progression into anger: “Keep on through the shit storm.” It’s a song that you can picture being perfect for the stage.
When the middle-eight comes around, it stops suddenly, like a car slamming on the brakes, and the pace changes, but with the tension of a coming crescendo. It’s predictable, but you don’t care because you want it to come, you’re looking for an excuse to strip-off and jump around your bedroom. On the first listen, I don’t mind admitting the break-down brought me to the verge of tears. I think these following lines speak for themselves: “When I said this was all I had I meant it, when you said I was a bad person I felt it, when I said this was all I had I meant it, when you said that I had destroyed you, I knew that a part of you was trying to destroy me too, when I said that I wanted to die I meant it…” In case you hadn’t noticed already, I’m an absolute sucker for transparency in songs, and for me, this is an absolute bonus and makes the track fully authentic. What makes this song really complete is the way that it all goes wild following the last line. The guitars become serious and heavy, the drummer is no longer keeping time, but he’s fighting the skins, the bassist is less concerned with harmonising, and more with hammering his strings and Wagner is no longer keeping tune, but is screaming his last note to the world. This is fantastic chaos.
Throw Me in the River, the eponymous track, is the last track I’ll talk about from this record. Before I even hear it, it comes with a lot of responsibility. You can’t help but feel that the song is representative of the album as a whole, and whether the album title, or the song title came first, you almost expect a synopsis contained within the track.
An arpeggio leads the track from silence, and for the first third of the song, it continues in this fashion, slow and poetic, airy and calm. Wagner leads into the chorus with “Say something nice to me…“, and you begin to wonder if this is the classic track on most albums, the calm song, the peaceful song towards the end to act as light relief from all of the past hour’s face melting. But no, then he shouts: “Then throw me in the fucking river.” and to be frank, I’m sort of pleased we’re offered no relief. I would feel almost short-changed if The Smith Street Band gave anything less than their all. With the last line: “I fucking miss what we were so much right now.” it couldn’t be construed that the boys had done anything but.
Overall, the album is a definite yes. The main drawbacks are that at times, I feel as though the vocals are a little out-of-tune which on the faster, more punk-driven songs can be forgiven, but on the quieter more emotional songs, this does sound a little out-of-place. Other times, it seems as though the vocals aren’t always in time with the music, with the same effect, but equally, Bob Dylan was no different. If you’re looking for an album full of honesty and heart, and fully able to make you act a fool it rocks so hard, then this is the album for you. My only wish was that it was released sooner!
You can catch the guys on tour with The Menzingers and The Holy Mess here:
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