Cargo Duitsland (label)
31 October 2014 (released)
23 April 2015
The personality, connotations and associations with two particular and familiar genres are employed in the combination sound of Australian folk punk group The Smith Street Band. When you think of folk music, you think of intellect, wit, observational substance and a deep-rooted story worth telling. When you think of punk music, you think of impulsiveness, anarchy, wild partying and a rebellious mentality. Lead vocalist and principle songwriter Wil Wagner has two schizophrenic temperatures to his emotional thermometer. His thoughtful and sentimental face is packaged in delicately-laced melodic acoustic folk wrapping paper with calm vocals and his enraged temperament is painted extemporaneously with red-hot punk noise with crashing drums, frantic wails and mosh pit moments.
The best examples of this unique conjunction of obverse styles still remain on the debut No One Gets Lost Anymore (I Ain't Safe, Best Friend I Ever Had, My Little Sinking Ship, The Belly of Your Bedroom) as they petered out disappointingly on sophomore Sunshine and Technology and have been bought back only in patches on their latest effort Throw Me In The River (I Don't Wanna Die Anymore, It's Alright I Understand, Get High See No One, The Arrogance of a Drunk Pedestrian). Which is a shame because it's one of the characteristics that makes the band stand out from the crowd and should be explored further.
Curiously, Wagner possesses an erudite range of vocabulary more linked with the intelligence of folk genres (surmountable, vasectomy, amphibious, encompassing, contraband etc.) but within the same chorus can switch to specific slang or places from his native Melbourne (Doona, Peachtree, Main Street, Johnson & Bronswick, dive), profanity, or conversational speech that is precise to the situation like a diary entry being written in present tense. The quoting of both-sides of a conversation is one of his idiosyncratic techniques apparent in all three albums. On the new album, he sings: "When you said I was a bad person I felt it"/"When I said I wanted to die I meant it" (The Arrogance of a Drunk Pedestrian). Yet Wil Wagner's Australian-accent has dissolved further into American territory as the band's quest for global stardom has branched out becoming slightly counter-productive to the cause but ultimately rewarded them prolific world touring.
Either way, his boyish views on soulmate-searching, repetitive mediocrity in society, mortality, partying antics and false promises aren't meant to be universally understood, are unforgivingly exclusive and are meant to reflect his unbalanced lifestyle and surroundings. Furthermore, he contains a modest, insecure and self-deprecating view on himself: "woke up coming down the stairs of a real man" and gratuitous perspective towards the imitated time length of life, any love he attracts and little minute details about everything he appreciates , which is rare for a punk generation that can be seen as spoilt and ecologically unsound. He also seeks to improve himself but get's drawn back in a vicious cycle of habits: "So I'll paper over what I lack, I'll fill in the pores and the cracks." (Throw Me In The River).
The progression of the albums isn't clear by it's musical nature of slow bridges, patiently rising crescendos and shred guitar madness, but interestingly can be deciphered through the titles of the tracklist. The debut featured names that could be answers to pop culture questions (Sigourney Weaver, My Sinking Ship), the second album had monikers that sounded like speech said embarrassingly during paranoia episodes (I Can't Feel My Face, Why Can't I Draw) and the third album contains aliases that could be the last words of the fatally wounded (Surrender, I Don't Wanna Die Anymore, It's Alright I Understand).
Although the third album Throw Me In The River isn't a massive leap forward it has it's moments of fun that will delight. Promotion towards it features a LCD Soundsystem-Drunk-Girls-esque video for Surrender, which was directed by Callum Preston and involved the help of Andy Johnson, who in turn photographed the album's cover of a bonfire. Cleverly, you can hear the flames at the start of opener Something I Can Hold My Hands, which suggests a more DIY approach from new producer Jeff Rosenstock as oppose the chainsaw drive guitar at the beginning of Sunshine and Technology. In the end, there isn't a major difference with the main highlights being the addictive fast drums on Surrender and the epiphany moment on the epic whirlwind of I Love Life, where Wil Wagner finally learns to not care about public perception: "I love you so f***ing much right now, f**k em, let them talk." One thing The Smith Street Band will always accomplish successfully is the energetic drive and the intriguing persuasion that makes us want to join their scene. If only to experience it's unpredictability for a day.