A. Smyth – Last Animals
Folk | Alternative
As someone who gets swamped with more music than I could ever possibly cover, even with the best will in the world, I’m continually forced to choose what releases I should dedicate my time to. Contrary to what you may think, very rarely is music rejected for being outright bad. Not only are bad submissions surprisingly uncommon, but even when they do appear they can still be worth talking about. They still make you feel something, and there’s a discussion to be had about constructive criticism. Instead, it’s a far greater sin to be average. To follow trends, to steer too close to your influences, and otherwise just blend into the crowd. There’s so many records that don’t really make any missteps as such, but nonetheless are left overlooked simply because they don’t do enough to differentiate themselves.
As a folk record, Last Animals sadly falls into this category at many points. Aside from the slightly repetitive ‘Say You Won’t Mind’, the folk side of this record doesn’t really but a foot wrong, but mostly because it feels like it is treading a well worn path. Tracks like ‘Rain Boys’ and ‘Tempt’ offer the familiar bittersweet autumnal feel that is sure to scratch the itch for Nick Drake fans, while the hook-driven ‘River’ draws more from Americana influences. All these moments are well crafted, but never feel like they put enough of their own stamp on the sound. There are some charming uses of harmonics on ‘Yeah You Said’ and ‘Me And My Old Man’, but these finer details can only do so much to win you over. It’s a perfectly fine collection of songs, but in these moments it doesn’t manage to capture my imagination.
It’s when the album moves away from folk, and Irish singer/songwriter A. Smyth experiments outside of his comfort zone, that we begin to see some real glimmers of possibility. With the brilliant contrast on ‘Don’t Let Me Down’ between the energetic gallop of the verses and soothing rise and fall of the chorus, and the fuzzy squall of guitar and wonderfully expressive bass on ‘Hero’, we hear this release start to set itself apart. On the slow building crescendo of album highlight ‘Out of the Disappear’ I find myself suddenly enthralled; the music shifting from pleasant background noise to something that demands my attention, and happily receives it without question. Not all of the more fleshed out compositions manage to pull of the same trick – the monotonous beat and lackadaisical lead guitar on ‘When It Calls’ ends up falling flat for instance – but it’s in these moments where this debut album shows the most character and promise.
There’s a lot I want to like about this record, even down to the cover’s minimalist artwork and bold use of colour, but the flecks of brilliance are a little too spread out. Listening to this album is a lot like reading a great first draft of a novel; you know they’re on to something but at the same time you can recognise that there’s still a lot of work to do. So while Last Animals is a likeable if a little forgettable album, it’s still worth remembering the unassuming name of A. Smyth in the hope that future releases build on the successes here. Not every hint of gold dust in the river is a fortune in the making, but it’s still worth bearing in mind in case it pays off later down the line.