Smoosh - Withershins
Edmund Townend 22/07/2010
Smoosh are a well seasoned band. They've been part of the US and worldwide underground for going on eight years - which is surprising when you know the real facts behind the band. It's easy to judge Smoosh on first appearances, so for the sake of this review we'll ignore the most startling fact about their history.
Withershins is Smoosh's third album, their last being Free To Stay released in 2006. The band have had considerable touring experience, opening for bands like Death Cab For Cutie, Pearl Jam, Jimmy Eat World, Bloc Party and most recently The Dresden Dolls as well as collaborating with Belle & Sebastian and former label mates Head Like A Kite. Their seasoned experience is apparent on Withershins and shows a huge change from their previous outings. They incorporate a lot more into their music, making the most of the studio experience and not limiting themselves to their live keyboard, drums and bass setup. Each song is expansive and well thought out, original sampling is rife throughout the album and each song has a different atmosphere and mood. Four of the songs already made their debut on tours a few years ago, but the studio versions add an extra dimension and show clever versatility in changing an already well played song into something fresh. Amongst these are 'Promises', which was initially a chance for Smoosh's drummer to show off a brutal attack on the drums against a sweet piano structure. The recorded version however offers a good mix (provided via internet connection with Michael Lerner in the USA with Smoosh in Sweden) of all parts to create a balanced and powerful piece. 'Dark Shine' is titled well, merging soft and hard melodies to create a strange and haunting song that blurs the lines between light and dark with distorted piano, deep drums and odd samples. Softer, upbeat tracks 'Great Skies' and 'In The Fall' echo songs from Free To Stay but incorporate a better lyrical stance and understanding of mood. Each song has embellishments unheard in live performances such as a great sounding brass solo on 'In The Fall' which is amongst the highlights of the album.
Smoosh fans were treated to a slow reveal of the new album as songs became available on the internet. 'The World's Not Bad' takes an simple optimistic view from a band who are more aware of the world than a lot of other bands in their position. Live drums are interlaced with samples and the recent addition of bass adds a great new layer to the band. 'We Are Our Own Lies' starts with a bizarre, unidentifiable string of smooth samples and then introduces piano, once again showing a remarkable optimism and uplifting feel. Each song has a well thought out structure, with instrumental breaks and doesn't plough through keeping to one idea like songs on previous releases. The final song to be revealed before the album was released was 'Finnerödja', named after a Swedish town, possibly where (or near where) the album was recorded. The song is wholly atmospheric, focusing more on a building feeling rather than having a focus on the (almost indecipherable) lyrics.
All these songs take a traditional indie pop view with leanings towards darker and more atmospheric feelings. The completely new songs, however, show a great new experimentation in the band. 'The Line' starts with an acidic drum beat and a great sounding piano follows only to be punctuated by beautiful violins. Sharp and brutal, it's a total step beyond the pop of previous work. It fits in with the other songs well and has a slightly angry edge akin to the home of Smoosh, Seattle (home of the grunge scene). The final three songs take a step beyond this, however. 'Aaarplane' can easily be defined as weird with some faltering melodies and out of place samples that make you feel unsettled, but possibly could be the intention. 'Call of The Mid Afternoon' is drastically dark, with off beat and then fantastical drums, evocative vocals, ever present atmospheric sounds and an incredible catchy hook in the lyric "Put your wings out". It could be overlooked in comparison to stronger songs on the album, but this could be the best and most creative song on the record incorporating every influence the band have taken on their journey. 'Bridge No. 219242' takes a step in another direction, being an upbeat, almost jazzy song but incorporating deep bass both from guitar and piano as well as a strikingly wide-ranging vocal line that adds a guest backing vocal later on, after a strange time signature eluding breakdown which closes the album.
So, what's the kicker then? Smoosh are a band made up of three sisters - Asya (keyboards, vocals, lyrics), Chloe (drums, backing vocals) and Maia (bass) - who write their respective parts. Respectively they are eighteen, sixteen and fourteen. Even looking past their age, the music is brilliant, and the age is just a bonus factor.
Release date: Out now