Review Summary: a hidden post hardcore gem that promised so much, but was left alone1 of 1 thought this review was well writtenThe Role Of Smith
is one of those records that I own for quite some years now, and as of shortly it was one of those that didn't come to mind when I looked for the consummate album to accompany my meanwhile fastidious 'I listen to music and won't do anything else'-phase. Back then, after one or hardly two rounds of listening, I thenceforth connected the record only with two or three songs that I liked, that grabbed my attention most with easy grasping vocal melodies over a negligible skeleton of eccentric instrumental work. One of them sometimes showed up on an extensive playlist, but the record as one consistent listening experience? Never bothered. However, quite recently my unpleasant rattling external hard drive and a therefore swiftly initiated but ill-conceived bailout of, well, let’s say a quite bigger amount of digitally deposited music albums, led to a new encounter with Tabula Rasa's firstling. And while the recent time I spent with this record offered me the insight that I likely wasn’t able to fully digest it on my first try, the resulting copious preoccupation likewise exacted its toll: The record grew, throve, blossomed and eventually became … a wee bit flat.
To say it right away, The Role Of Smith
is a record that undeniably will get esteemed from music fans and critics alike for its largely showing technical expertise and integrated compositional techniques. Looking no further than the first three songs, Tabula Rasa immediately leaves an impression by bombarding your ears with goading drumming that facilitates smoothly dissolving syncopations and backs the entwined, contrapuntal melodies provided by the perfectly aligned guitars. Speaking of which, both guitarists, Andre and coevally vocalist Rob, draw on a versatile repertoire of texturing arpeggios, speeding tappings and swirling legatos as well as different sets of triad chords who provide the songs with gently dissonant harmonies and contrasting rhythms. Logically, the creative department gets governed by their meticulous fret work while the drums are able to give dynamical accents and the bass, well, rumbles in the musically backyard. Belted by focused song writing, the instruments don’t get seduced from their insinuated math rock affinity that easily could let them go astray in the variety of sonic motifs and rhythmic patterns Tabula Rasa supplies. In addition, this simplifies the vocal work of Rob profoundly, allowing him to shine with lasting chorus melodies and rough yells that complete the framework of mathy post hardcore parceled in an indie/guitar rock body that works in every single song.
While the song structures are free-flowing and never come across as forced or imposed, the aforementioned basic framework The Role Of Smith is built upon results in eleven songs that unfortunately are assembling in one way or another. It definitely helps the record to unclench its core, its charming attitude, though, but in longer terms it can’t retain some of the songs from a lesser replay value than others, what ultimately leads to a narrowed overall impression. Tracks like “Nashville” or “There Is A Fine Line Between Genius And Insanity” embrace everything Tabula Rasa wanted to accomplish, but they miss that inscrutably one hook, that one everlasting melodic sequence that highlights songs such as the danceable “Dead Air” or the gorgeous instrumental that is “The Eating Contest”. “Jumping The Shark” may be technically stunning, but it lacks the rhythmical diligence that impels the mini-climatic “Are We In Our Nation's Capitol?” or the groovy outro of “Keith Song”. The lower production values don’t help either by kind of absorbing some of the filled-in guitar licks, not being able to perfectly contrast the single instruments in every case. Even if this light-grainy sound character suits the record very well apart from these minor gaffes, in the long run, however, the weak middle portion tears a minor hole in the record, extenuating the impact of an otherwise exhilarating listen.
For a debut full length, Tabula Rasa managed it very good to adorn theirselves with a confident amalgam of different styles and putting their distinctive stamp on it. Sure there are influences from post hardcore veterans Fugazi or At The Drive-In, and you can be pretty sure that their math rock tendencies originate from their hometown buddies Don Caballero, but none of those bands went for an album full of melodic but sophisticated songs like Tabula Rasa does on The Role Of Smith
. With a song like “More Words Than Not” that encapsulates their penchant for melodies and determined rhythmic that allows dynamical build-ups in an about three minute rock song that is catchy, pulsating and elaborate, the 4-piece showed a lot of potential to grow, to exhaust the musically possibilities it revealed. But as is often the case, an early break up sepulchered every opportunities; opportunities that gladly following bands have taken advantage of.