The Smith Street Band
More Scared of You Than You Are of Me
Pool House Records/Remote Control
When The Smith Street Band arrived in the Triple J Hottest 100 at number 21 back in January with their single “Death to the Lads,” there was elation from both their fans and the band’s immediate camp. There was, however, an underlying sentiment that just couldn’t be shaken: They’d shown up to the wrong party. Consider that the band’s song – which sports overdrive guitars, a “Power and the Passion” drum-beat and guitar harmonies that feel like Queen and Iron Maiden in a fight to the death – arrived between uber-cool acts The xx and Kanye West with Chance the Rapper. All three songs are fantastic, but as Sesame Street once so informatively showed us, one of these things is not like the others. Truthfully, this could serve as an extended analogy for The Smith Street Band’s place in the current climate of Australian music. Theirs was never the kind to light up radio or take to rooms bigger than the Tote or the Reverence in their native Melbourne. The fact that it’s taken them this far says a lot about how much work the band have put in, and how far their brand of earnestness and open-book honesty has brought them.
We have arrived at album number four, More Scared of You Than You Are of Me, which arrives some two-and-a-half years after their breakthrough LP Throw Me in the River. It’s an album that’s reflective of the highs and lows that have come within that time period; of growing up, breaking up, getting out and staying in. Frontman Wil Wagner ensures that there is not a single line that doesn’t resonate – either contextually, emotionally or both. Consider the moment of silence that lingers as he sings “You’re the worst thing that ever happened to me” in “Suffer,” before the guitars hammer it home. When the fatigue sets in as he recalls “the drive home from a 30-hour flight” on “Run Into the World,” which is brought home by the odd pairing of Laura Stevenson and Tim Rogers in a triumphant flourish. When he roars “I will let you kick the shit out of me/While you hold my hand” atop of “25”’s incessant drums. It’s all there, between each and every line. However you take in The Smith Street Band as an entity, More Scared… ensures that you’re bound to at least feel something.
It’s also an album where the band – with producer and longtime friend Jeff Rosenstock – have thrown more styles and sounds into the mix than ever before. The band’s debut LP, 2011’s No-One Gets Lost Anymore, envisioned a little bit of keyboards as an indulgence. Here, there’s probably a kitchen sink rattling around somewhere in the background. From choirs and electronic drums (“Shine”) to swelling string arrangements (“It Kills Me to Have to Be Alive”), it’s clear that no expense was spared – and it all comes together to serve the songs themselves. The Smith Street Band are looking at the bigger picture here, vividly filling in the details along the way.
Of course, the more things change musically for The Smith Street Band, the more things stay the same for the band itself. They’re forever going to be square pegs – a flanno revealing a stick-and-poke in a room full of designer labels revealing a session at Bondi Ink. Still, an album like More Scared of You Than You Are of Me is indicative of one clear, undeniable fact: They’re not going anywhere. Not yet, at least.
– David James Young