Travis - J. Smith

Alisha Ahmed 11/07/2008

Rating: 4/5

Screw the biz rules that turn albums just in cashing cows (or that's the idea at least, there's no guarantee in most of cases)! Travis are back after just a little bit more than a year (a short time in the music industry), even more indipendent than the name of their now former record label (Andy MacDonald's Independiente) suggested. They've revived their very own Label Red Telephone Box and here they are already with a 3-track EP which gives us a taste of a new kind of Travis!

I'd say new era and I'll stick by it cause J. Smith is set to be the first case of Oopart in history of music. Like an Out-of-place-artefact in fact, this EP feels like it's out of the wrong time cause it belongs to the golden age of the classic rock of the 70s. To do it justice you have to go way back and start compare it with Led Zeppelin maybe. So forget any too-easy comparison such as the latest Coldplay work. J. Smith is way more representative of the classic rock era.

"let's go analogue, let's do it the old-school way!" I hear you cry, but its not that contrived, the character of these songs just required this approach, and not just out of eclecticism. And you won't see me comment on the lyrics here. No way. Fran Healy simply isn't (just) a musician. He is a Poet.

The title song J. Smith might initially sound unfriendly to those used to the older mellow melodies of Travis of yore, but it's the perfect example of what Cameron Crowe said through Russell Hammond's speech: "It's not what you put in, it's what you leave out. It's the little things, the silly things..."

With J. Smith? It's the 4 seconds silence gap between the quiet, sort of angelic vocalize... and the crazy, nervous, anxious, alive guitar solo, where the silence needs to be there just in order for you to recharge energy, to then blow it out as the strings are pulled (gripped!!!). And the guitar sound gets even more enforced when the Choir (yes, an actual 40 piece Choir) enters making it nearly epic!

The second song "Get Up" previews the forthcoming album (since it will be featured on the track list apparently), and sees, along with Fran Healy, the collaboration on the writing side of bassist Dougie Payne. It effectively gets in your mind with a catchy rhythm that remains constant throughout its 3 minutes and it doesn't even stop for Mr Healy's whispers (another recharging-point I'd say)

Sarah is the slow paced sweet-sour song, where the piano is constantly cradling you (not-even-so-much) in the background, playing constantly in a carousel kind of way.
And when at 2:30 the piano becomes the very only sound along with Fran's voice, that's a moment you want to look forward to. And even the soft sweet Sarah can't help but bringing back reminisces of the melodies from the 60s and 70s ballads, which makes you realise that "back-to-golden-era" isn't just a motto overseeing the recording process (apparently the whole "Ode to J. Smith" forthcoming album was recorded in just 2 weeks with old style analogue Technology) but a concept behind the melodic choices and the chord sequences appeared even earlier in the sessions. It's the choices made along all the creative process that gives this record the golden vibe. It feels like the soul of this EP, in all its facets, is aiming to belong -artistically and technically- to an era when the dignity of music was at its height.

Average isn't an option (if it has ever been) for Travis. There's an urge for peaks, and these guys are one of the few cuts who expressed this urge. In a way, they're aware that, in rder to have peaks, you also need moments of rest to recharge your batteries. No need for quantity here, quality's the thing. The only way I will excuse you for standing there reading this is if you already have in your hands the 10" vinyl or if you are listening to the digital version. But tell me that you're just sitting there questioning me, and I might just never forgive you.

Pic - Anton Corbijn