While hailing from San Diego and beginning in the mid-2010s, Smiling actually evoke the ramshackle spirit of UK indie of the early 90s buzz pop. With a charming collision of jangle, grit, pop thrills and a bobble hatted nod or two in the direction of the psyche and shoegaze scenes, Smiling‘s Annie Shaw has crafted a joyously uncontrived and unselfconscious ten tracker here.
Admittedly, Devour starts unremarkably, the opening duo of Strange Attractor and Lighthouse both doing a fine job of setting out the Smiling stall and establishing what’s to come, but given what follows over the course of the album, they feel fine but forgettable. It’s third track The Well, a track that manages to be both bouncy and angsty at the same time and really catches the ears with a wailing chorus that has a little more ‘oomph’ than the opening duo. From there on, Ms. Shaw and co are off to the races. The latter half has some subtle but very cool guitar layering that drives the song to the end. It’s little details like this that Smiling tuck away in the songs that make them a repeat listen.
Mid-album highlight Forgetful Sam leans a little heavier on the reverb and fuzz but uses these elements to add a bit of sparkle to an already fine song. In the hands of some of her Jazzmaster wielding peers, you can’t help but think the melody would have been buried in favour of an My Bloody Valentine style wall of sound, but Shaw thankfully understands restraint and dynamics, and knows exactly what needs to go where for maximum effect. The closing Duvall Gardens delves a little heavier into the Big Muff realm for a moodier closing but again, it works precisely because it enhances the heavier parts rather than suffocates the rest of the song.
It’s a ragged guitar pop album that balances the sweet with the sour perfectly…
Devour is, for want of a better word, a very youthful sounding album – I don’t mean that in a demeaning way, and Duvall Gardens is the perfect illustration of what I mean in this context. This is music that is laced with excitement and sense of fun about it, a sense of fun without being wacky. That vaguely early 90s feel sits perfectly, whether by design or by accident, and evokes the kind of thing you might have seen sandwiched between Julianna Hatfield and Lush on MTV’s 120 Minutes. Certainly the title track, a brakes-off belter, is like a sonic midpoint between the two, but with that guitar fiddling I mentioned earlier front and centre.
Some might take issue with the production – it’s far from polished and has an almost ‘live in the studio’ feel, and it’s certainly tempting to wonder how these songs would sound with a bigger budget – but my gut is that the no frills approach works well here, again pushing Shaw‘s ability to write incredibly catchy songs to the fore. The whole thing has a real DIY spirit that’s hard not to like, nothing here really needs to be ornamented, and when violins occasionally appear it adds colour rather than drama.
Devour is an album to be played loud while getting ready to go out on the town, or in the car on the way to the beach. It’s a ragged guitar pop album that balances the sweet with the sour perfectly, sounding like the musical equivalent of teenage mischief. It’s an end of the summer epic, get it while the sun’s still out and blast it like your neighbours aren’t home.
Scribed by: Jamie Grimes