Throat have been playing the long game. The noise-rockers have been steadily and consistently putting out high quality records that function perfectly within their lane for 12 years now, without ever once repeating themselves or stunting their own growth. Smile Less is their most innovative and possibly best yet, being a huge evolution from their early days without being completely unfamiliar.
Their progression has been gradual, rather than any kind of sudden stylistic change, but here the four piece are at their most daring sonically. While Shots is the most instantly recognisable tune for fans of their AmRep worshipping roots, much of Smile Less takes a gloomier and more tense approach, following naturally from the previous Bareback album, which hinted at some perhaps more post-punk inspired elements. Those are here in abundance, with gothic and industrial textures really coming through without sacrificing any of the band’s previous abrasion.
The most striking difference here is in the vocals of J Mattila. While he’s certainly never been afraid to sing as well as shout, the opening duo of Conveyor Line and Grounding see him issue a deep baritone that’s vaguely reminiscent of Clockcleaner/Dark Blue songsmith John Sharkey, or perhaps even a less grandiose Phil Oakey. He wears it well, particularly on the more sinister Grounding where the gothic leanings are slightly more pronounced (is that the chord progression from Christian Woman I hear?). The band accordingly are far more dynamic then ever, pulling back from the big chords to allow the rhythm section full reign.
Smile Less is Throat at the height of their powers and sees them arriving at something uniquely theirs…
It’s impossible not to talk about Home Is Where Your Hurt Is, the black heart of the album. Those industrial elements I mentioned earlier come crawling out of the shadows for an eight minute epic that pushes all your preconceptions about Throat being simply riff obsessed pugilists off a cliff – we’re in genuinely eerie terrain here, what sounds like synthesised percussion pulsing slowly and ominously, Matilla informing you how you’ve ‘worn out your welcome’ over the faint sound of dying machinery, before the band kick in to a climactic pummel, only to feed into darkness once again. It’s deftly played and creepily cinematic. It’s unsettling.
In truth each song tells its’ own story, and the range and variety on display is impressive. By the time the closing Hospice comes around, another slow burner, has a bit more of the big riff action you’d want, albeit in a more sombre fashion than previously. All of Smile Less is heavy but it’s in terms of emotion and atmosphere instead of simple sonic mass. There always seems to be something simmering just under the surface, but the band don’t really opt for the easy catharsis you’d expect, resulting in a far more powerful record. it’s not too much hyperbole to say that Smile Less is Throat at the height of their powers and sees them arriving at something uniquely theirs.
Scribed by: Jamie Grimes