Smith & Thell – Hotel Walls

“It’s Mumford and Sister!”

Tim: Tom, and indeed our reader: if you’re feeling nihilistic then good news! This song is bloody brilliant. If not, well, maybe come back tomorrow.

Tom: It’s Mumford and Sister! I have no idea if that’s a compliment or insult. Also, I just realised that a) I made that exact same joke last time we talked about them and b) despite talking about several of their songs with you here, I have absolutely no memory of them whatsoever.

I don’t know if that’s my memory at fault, or if the songs just aren’t all that memorable in general.

Tim: I won’t lie: the first thing that attracted me to this, beyond that it’s Smith & Thell, was the video thumbnail. That looks lovely, as does the rest of this lyric video. But, oh, is there so much more to this as a song. In their words, it’s “a metaphor for life: you check in, you check out”.

They also say that, “while we’re here we should celebrate life rather than fearing the inevitable death”, but to be honest I don’t get that at all from the song – it’s “life is here, let’s cope with it”.

Tom: I’m generally in favour of lyrics with unconventional but realistic messages, and this certainly qualifies.

Tim: But you know what? That’s fine. It’s also brilliant to listen to – production, melody, everything is just right.

Tom: Yep, looking back at what we’ve said about them over the years, they’re clearly finding a voice that works for them and sounds great. They’re in the sort of place where one big breaththrough hit will make them massive. This won’t be it, but the next one might be.

Tim: It’s bloody brilliant.

Smith & Thell feat. Swedish Jam Factory – Forgive Me Friend

Tim: Smith & Thell are the singers as ever; as far as I can make out it’s Jam in the sense of music, not fruit, and they’re the ones dancing and playing the instruments (though not simultaneously, sadly).

Tim: Ain’t that lovely? Fast paced, knows where it’s going and what it’s doing, and is very efficient at it.

Tom: I mean, I was thinking it’s more like “Mumford and Sister”, but sure, yes, it gets the job done. I find it difficult to say anything specific about it, though: I feel like I’ve heard it before, even though I haven’t.

Tim: Lots of lovely moments in there – just to take one example (and I know it’s been done hundreds of times before), the ‘dum-dum-DUM-[beat]’ that happens just before each “cause you fill in…” sounds great. The heavy strumming’s great, the dancing’s impressive, the vocal’s strong, and overall it’s just got a massive amount of energy and life to it. And I love that.

Smith & Thell – Dumb

“Please, don’t delete this.”

Tim: New discovery: about two and a half years ago, Smith & Thell removed roughly everything they had every done from the internet, and indeed elsewhere: YouTube videos and SoundCloud tracks all gone, no songs on Spotify or up for purchase, anywhere. All gone, completely.

Tom: Well, that’s bold. Dramatic PR stunt, getting angry with old work, or a Big Massive Change In Direction?

Tim: Big Massive Change In Direction: from dancey numbers like Kill It With Love (still up unofficially in dodgy quality on Vimeo if you want to remind yourself) to more boring standard guitar stuff. So it’s slightly understandable – forget the past, we don’t do that any more – until you realise that actually, their new track is very much closer to the old stuff.

Tom: You’re not wrong there.

Tim: In fact, what we’ve got is a really, really good blend of the two styles, with a U2-esque beginning, and continuing undercurrent, of guitars and drums and standard band-style singing, which then quickly adds on some synths and develops eventually full-blown dance banger territory for the second chorus and what follows. And I absolutely love that idea.

Tom: It does, but there’s something wrong with the production here, or at least in the version that’s been sent up to YouTube. Everything’s been gated so loudly that it’s difficult to make out the vocals: there’s no headroom anywhere in there. There’s a really great vocal quality hidden in there, but it’s been pushed so loud and limited so heavily that it’s almost painful to listen to at times.

Tim: Hmm…

Tom: Yes, I’m complaining about the ‘loudness war’, but it’s rare to actually make such a difference. Either that or my ears are blocked.

Tim: Well, I kind of get what going for (and it’s not YouTube, the studio version’s the same), but I don’t find it a problem. The two styles are blended together so so well, and it’s a track I can listen to many times over, particularly once you add the great “luh-luh-luh-love me” bit in that pre-chorus which I find a particular highlight. And that higher melody in the middle eight? Also great. In fact it’s ALL GREAT. So please, don’t delete this.

Smith & Thell – February

“ENJOY!”

Tim: Says Ms Smith, about last February: “All we could see around us were hollow-eyed people on the subway walking into each other and stepping on each other’s feet, drowsy from too little sleep and too much darkness. We said ‘let’s just be honest with ourselves that life sucks for the moment.’… Sometimes you want a song to pick you up – but sometimes, at least for us, we just want to rest in our feelings and embrace the lows for a while.” So ENJOY!

Tim: And however grim and depressing you may find the message – thanks to a back injury, I’m in more physical pain as I write this than I can remember having ever been in, so I wouldn’t mind some e.g. Katy Perry Firework joy – you can’t deny that’s a fairly good piece of work.

Tom: An offhand and sudden confession there, Tim, hope you’re OK. And you’re right: the song takes its own time to build, but by the time backing vocals appeared, I was actually starting to get behind it. For a song that is deliberately Not A Banger, that takes some doing.

Tim: If we’re going to have a song dedicated to the most miserable time of the year, you could do a lot worse than this, with its minor key, moody strings and slow piano line all contributing. And those backing vocals towards the end: wonderful. I reckon this can be enjoyed however you’re feeling – to make you feel better, knowing there a whole load of people with you, or to make you feel happier, knowing that you’re doing a whole lot better that most suckers out there. It’s lovely.

Smith & Thell – Statue

Tom: Oh! They’re the pair who made Joshua’s Song.

Tim: Ooh, he remembers. It is indeed, but it’s a standard track this time, for their next album.

Tom: And while I hear the similarities in style, I much prefer this.

Tim: First off, SPOILER WARNING because this review contains references to the plot Inside Out, so you might want to stop here if you’re planning to see that.

Tom: It’s not Pixar’s best, so don’t worry about it.

Tim: If you’re not, or you already have done, listen to all of this song – I don’t just mean that in the sense of appreciate every element (although do), but hear all the lyrics, and the wonderful telling of self-worth therein. We’re starting out wanting anaesthesia for the pain, but going through an emotional journey, realising that pain is necessary to appreciate the high points in life, much like the characters in Inside Out.

Tom: Yes! And I think they’ve done more in four minutes here than Pixar’s heavy-handed metaphors did. It’s a lovely job.

Tim: The timing of that is (presumably) entirely a coincidence, but it’s nice to have it.

And then of course there’s everything else. The guitariness, the folkiness, just the whole damn package. The beginning of the chorus, when the tempo drops and then speeds up again – it’s a great thing, though I wouldn’t mind it going a little bit further.

Tom: I was going to pick that out too: it’s the kind of thing that more “produced”, dance-y tracks never bother to do, so it works well here.

Tim: Also wouldn’t mind the final chorus being repeated, as with only one of three choruses being the happy one you’re running a risk of the message going wide of the mark; those two bits aside, I LOVE this track.

Smith & Thell – Joshua’s Song

“A bit trite and obvious, but I suspect that’s rather the point.”

Tim: This comes as part of a thing called “Songs With Pride”, run by, of all people, the shopping chain 7-Eleven; basically, a number of songs released last week to coincide with Stockholm Pride Week. Press play.

Tim: So, talk about a downbeat intro, but it does at least set the scene.

Tom: As do all the lyrics: they’re not really in favour of subtlety or metaphor, are they? Uncharitably, I could call them a bit trite and obvious, but I suspect that’s rather the point.

Tim: Wouldn’t surprise me – it doesn’t seem to be a song particularly worried about subtlety. For the rest of the music, though: coming up to the chorus, my thought was “I’ve been waiting a long time, this had better be BRILLIANT”, then “oh, underwhelming”, but then just a few seconds later “ooh actually this is exactly what it should be”. It’s not a big pop song, it’s a gentle number, about how things will look better in the future; it’s about how right now, sure, it really really sucks, but it’ll change, and improve.

Tom: They ain’t Tom Robinson, that’s for sure, but then who could be?

Tim: Well, quite. For the message they’re sending, this song gets that across brilliantly, building up in steps throughout. It’s great.

Smith & Thell – Hippie Van

Tim: Smith & Thell have been gone a while doing songwriting for other people and stuff, but now they’ve decided to have another go at the front and centre action, albeit with less electronic stuff and more banjos. Hmm.

Tim: I say ‘Hmm’, that’s purely because that’s typically the wrong direction to go in as far as I’m concerned; however, here they’ve done a very good job of the folk pop.

Tom: Oh, it can be done very well — but it requires just as much production and effort as any dance track.

Tim: It’s chirpy and upbeat like it’s meant to be and not overly saccharine, which is nice.

Tom: Right: there’s clearly a bit of 2003 Aviici influence in here, and I suspect that a bit more of that is exactly what it needs. I found myself drifting away during the verses; even that last chorus couldn’t quite bring me back.

Tim: The “oh-oh-oh-etc”s in the chorus are good, as ever, provided something to sing along to without worrying about the whole words thing. For me it goes just a little to far right at the end with the sense of ‘look how tiny I can make these notes seem’, but other than that: all good.

Smith & Thell – Here Comes The Sun

Beatles covers always give me a bit of trepidation.

Tim: Here Comes The Sun isn’t the most well-known or enduring of The Beatles’ songs, but it is the one Smith & Thell have chosen to cover to celebrate fifty years of said band.

Tom: Beatles covers always give me a bit of trepidation. Sure, there are tremendous ones, but for each of those there’s a dozen incompetent ones. They’re a difficult band to cover. And Here Comes The Sun isn’t too obscure, which puts it in a tricky position: it’s not become a “standard”, but enough people will be attached to the original.

And a house music Beatles cover? Colour me skeptical.

Tom: That would be so much better if it wasn’t a Beatles cover. I like it. It’s happy. It’s danceable. But my word, when you know the original, or even the wonderful version on the Love remix album … man, I’m all for cover versions, but they should try to better the original, not make it generic.

Tim: The problem for me is that this is a tune that is precisely six months too late/early. Because it’s so not an October tune, is it? Much like yesterday’s, it’s a summer dance anthemy type track. It’s very summery, and that’s the main thing I don’t like about it, because right now it’s cold and wet and grey and I have to go outside to go to work in a bit and I don’t want to leave my nice warm house.

Tom: I’m not so sure: “it’s been a long, cold, lonely winter” is a good line for that.

Tim: No, it’s a terrible line: it implies it’s finished, it’s gone, summer’s here to stay. But NO. NO IT ISN’T. It’s going to RAIN and RAIN and HAIL and DRIZZLE and be COLD and DAMP and MISERABLE. MOAN MOAN MOAN.

Tom: Get yourself a sun lamp, Tim. Blimey.

Tim: Okay, I took it too far, so HAPPY: aside from that, it’s great. Not entirely keen on the ending – it’s not just the suddenness, it’s that there’s no actual finish at all, almost like the power went out in the recording studio halfway through. Can we not have a slightly different final line, perhaps, or just some indication that it’s meant to finish here?

But still, my main complaint about this is the release date. And if that’s the worst thing about a track, then it’s a pretty good track.

Tom: The measure of a cover version, for me, is whether I turn it off and listen to the original. And here, I did. And that’s a shame.

Smith & Thell – Kill It With Love

This one already has vocals.

Tim: Yesterday, you’ll recall, we heard a piano dance track and discussed whether or not it needed vocals. Now, I’m going to ignore what you said about being bored of stuff, and will instead do, well not quite the same thing, because this one already has vocals.

Tom: About time.

Tim: This sounds great, and I think it backs up what I said.

Tom: Whereas I think it’s pretty much ripped my argument apart. ‘Cos I’m actually less enthused about this than yesterday’s repetitive piano track.

Tim: Really? The backing’s there to enjoy, and the vocals are on top in case it gets boring, which it certainly never does.

Tom: Is that backing really a melody on its own, though? It just sounds like regular background synth playing to me – no special little riffs being repeated there, just chords.

Tim: Yes, but they’re decent chords – they’ve got energy, vibrancy, something which yesterday’s didn’t have.

Tom: But that doesn’t make… “piano-dance” or whatever you call this genre. The piano’s not taking the lead melody, or even echoing it – it’s just a bit of the backing.

Tim: Well, it’s there enough to be notable. Though, in a weird twist, towards the end of the song I think it almost gets a bit too much. Like I said yesterday, you either need a complex melody or something like a vocal, but here we’ve got both. I’d certainly like to hear an instrumental version, just to compare the two.

Tom: I’d like to hear something… more. And I wish I could quantify that.