Lehmann B. Smith
12 Track, LP (2012, Sensory Projects)
Related: Lehmann B. Smith, Lehmann B Smith, Lehmann Smith.
“I just hope his next climate opus is The Big Monsoon.” So said Lawson Fletcher in his review of Lehmann B. Smith’s near-perfect The Big Dry in 2010. If the breaking of the Victorian drought, as well as Smith’s ambitious six-album promise for this year, is anything to go by, it’s looking like he’s got his wish. Having already dropped Little Milk and the cassette Split with Patinka Cha Cha’s Natasha Rose this year, that sense of abundance doesn’t stop at the number of songs produced. It also extends to the rich compositions and flood of collaborators – including producer James Cecil (Super Melody, ex-Architecture in Helsinki) and Laura Jean – for Girlfriends.
It’s funny that sense of plentitude should extend to this record because, despite the cheery veneer and baroque melodies, things don’t seem to be going too well for its subject. If he isn’t drinking himself stupid in ‘Malice for the Bullshit’ –because, according to Smith’s ‘Book of Life’, love is just that – a moaning slide guitar is tempering the frolic of ‘Follow Me’ (“If you leave I won’t go back to suffering love”).
You wouldn’t pick the loneliness at first listen, particularly when surrounded by a veritable legion of contributing musicians plus his choir of ‘girlfriends’ (plural). But hidden within this pop hallelujah, with its rosy disposition and affectation, is a faint sentiment of distance and disconnection. Where Smith’s retro influences might have glossed over the realities of love, life and desire with sickly-sweet slogans to any number of romantic delusions, Girlfriends plunges its darkly funny lyrics into the doo-wop harmonies of ‘Killer Stone, Take Luck’ – “I believe that it’s a wonder that we can even fuck” – and the soulful call-and-response of ‘Friends (Hang on to Your Soul)’.
You’ll note the frequent use of parentheses in the track listing. It’s as if every upside requires a downer. The chirpy, piano-led number ‘Fall At My Feet (My Mon Fuhrer Armour)’ defines love and devotion in terms of dominance and oppression. ‘You Don’t Need Anyone (Else)’ is a cloying love ballad. The true joy is reserved for the instrumentals, but those too are tempered by Smith’s incredible feel for dynamics. A reach for every peak is repeatedly thwarted by his inner metronome; rhythm tugged across a manic compositional thrust that makes any given note all the more thrilling for finally having hit it.
Needless to say, Girlfriends isn’t a mere pastiche of pop’s past within two-dimensional renderings of love and dating. Lehmann B. Smith and his audience are too smart for that. Instead, it’s a rich tapestry of heartbreak, self-awareness and reason, woven into an ecstatic tribute to irony at its best.
by Steph Kretowicz