It’s been four years since the world last heard from indie band Smoosh. Their second record, Free to Stay, got the band attention for first of all being recorded by a 14-year-old and a 12-year-old, and secondly for being really good (giving any teenager that played an instrument a massive inferiority complex). It was catchy, lean, and planted in the band’s drum and keyboard setup.
This isn’t quite the Smoosh we’re used to. New elements include a bass player, a focus on electronics and atmosphere, and a less chaotic and more fluid song structure are present in opener “Finnerodja”. Older Smoosh (well, technically younger Smoosh) operated on a get-in-get-out-in-three-minutes principle that “Finnerodja” ignores by clocking in at a whooping five and a half minutes. Most bands couldn’t handle that sort of jump, but Smoosh has played enough and has enough control over the song to make it work.
But they quickly one-up themselves with “We Are Our Own Lies”. Smoosh has always been above average instrumentally, but on “We Are Our Own Lies”, there’s a synthesis not seen in their previous songs. Drums enter and drop out, keyboards hit high and then low, and the song rises and falls with grace, showing that the band can add new elements while still not forgetting what made them fun in the first place.
As the album continues, it becomes clear that Smoosh were able to achieve what a lot of bands can’t: how to successfully move forward while still sounding like you. As it turns out, Smoosh works really well when they inject some jam and dynamics into their songs and give everything room to breath. This is what makes songs like “Dark Shine” and “Aaaarplane” (which features a great beat) great. Everything sounds like it comes naturally, and the record’s biggest strength is how well everyone plays. And fear not, towards the middle of the album, the band eases up on the long songs, and things even get down to three and a half minutes at one point (the lovely “In the Fall”).
Withershins is Smoosh’s most realized record. Experimental elements that some bands throw in as afterthoughts (looking at you, Interpol) are developed ideas here; the strings add lush details to already strong choruses, and the dark atmosphere helps give the band a bit of snap and kick. Really, “darker” was one of my first impressions of this album, there are more minor chords and somber arrangements here than She Like Electric or Free to Stay.
The only downside is that while all of this might be new to the band, none of it is particularly new to listeners. Outside of the ubiquitous “indie” label, putting an accurate genre to Withershins because it never really pulls in any particular direction. When Smoosh expanded their sound, they did the same with their comfort zone. Those great ideas previously mentioned are still great, but they happen in exactly the areas you’d expect. Though then again, these girls are growing. But still, it’s a positive listening experience, four stars.
tl;dr: Great signs of growth and even more potential ahead. 4 out of 5.
PS, get the album for free from the band here.
I saw these girls in Austin, Texas. They opened for the Dresden Dolls. I thought they were cool. I have Withershins. Very cool progression in their style. The singer should focus on staying true to her style.
Oh man, a Smoosh+DD show had to be great. And yeah, even though I knock on them a little for changing, it was still a good change to make.