Review Summary: Maturity and continued excellence
For those unfamiliar with them, The Smith Street Band is an Australian folk-punk band. They are led by founding member and singer Wil Wagner who released his own solo album Laika in 2013. After forming in 2010, The Smith Street Band has wasted no time, with this being the band’s third full album following close behind their 2013 EP, Don’t *** With Our Dreams.
Already releasing two full albums and two EPs in just four years, how does Throw Me In the River stack up? Opening with the reflective intro, “Something I Can Hold in my Hands,” the album begins soft, but builds until Wil is shouting over shredding guitar about his purpose in life being exactly where he is. He sings of how he is only happy when he is on stage, about how he is smiling when he wakes up, how music is what he lives for. Based on how the rest of the album turns out, I believe him. This is their best release to date.
Wil Wagner is the focal point of The Smith Street Band. Open wound, heart on the sleeve lyricists often run into the issue of coming off as corny and overly dramatic. This is not the case here. Wil Wagner is possibly the most sincere, self-aware lyricist out there. Every nostalgic, story telling line comes off as authentic no matter how cliché or dramatic they theoretically should be. Lines like“Turn around so I can ***ing kiss you,” and “I love life so ***ing much right now I have to pinch myself,” should not work as well as they do. Regardless, Wil manages to pull it off. The emotion conveyed through slight trembles in speech and the confidence in his yells can simply not be passed off as artificial.
Though Wil is the focus, the instrumentation of the entire album is top-notch. The guitar riffs are catchy and interesting. Faster pace, rocking songs like “East London Summer,” and “Get High, See No One,” display the guitarist’s commendable abilities with the latter even including solos. The drumming has nice fills, holds perfect tempo, and builds dramatically for the tense atmospheres near the end of several songs.
With this release the band takes on a more alternative rock and pop-punk focused sound while maintaining its folk sentimentalities. Although they have created a slightly different style the band is as confident as ever in their song writing. This is by far The Smith Street Band’s most ambitious album instrumentally, adding more elements than ever before, such as the inclusion of strings into the title track.
Throw Me In the River is a cohesive album. Every song perfectly complements the song prior and after. This can be seen in the albums two song closer, beginning with the darker title track before erupting into the sporadic rocker, “I Love Life.” It is again seen in the transition from the soft and slow “Calgary Girls,” leading into the fast-paced and straight forward punk song, “East London Summer”. This makes for a quick and easy listen that is appreciated more and more with each consecutive return.
The album beautifully dances a line between being uplifting and sorrowful. Though seeming contradictory, The Smith Street Band manages to pull it off, just as they always have. In a sense Throw Me In the River is a break-up album. The album capitalizes on leaving places behind, losing friends, and break-ups. The twist is the uplifting attitude presented by the band throughout the entirety of the album. The band takes a careless approach to all the traumas of life. “Surrey Dive” is a prime example of this attitude with Wil yelling as the instrumentation cuts out, “So why don’t you *** off?”
The Smith Street Band’s greatest strength is their amazing aptitude to create peaking moments in every song. The band utilizes climaxes where the music gets extremely soft before slowly building into explosive moments that never fail to impress. They make for a truly memorable listening experience. Look no further than, “The Arrogance of the Drunk Pedestrian,” for an example of this. Opening with lightly picked guitar, the song slowly morphs, adding more intensity to the vocals as heavier instrumentation is brought in. During the final bridge, Wil begins singing quiet, and with every word that escapes his mouth his words get bolder and louder before blowing the song over the top screaming, “But Goodbye.”
This album marks a shift in maturity and manages to trump both their debut and sophomore release. With every repeated listen, this album continues to grow on me, and has easily become my personal favorite release of 2014. In just four short years The Smith Street Band has released three sincere and impressive albums even with constant touring. Maybe we will be lucky enough to have three more great albums in another four years.