Monday, January 18, 2010
New Problems - Seth Smith
SCQ Rating: 78%
Between the release of Dog Day’s Concentration last spring and their vinyl-only EP Elder Schoolhouse in autumn, singer/guitarist Seth Smith quietly unveiled his first solo album. In fact, New Problems’ existence was more coughed out as a by-the-by than “quietly unveiled”, with Smith announcing it as a “scrapbook type record of old b-sides and demos”. One’s problems must be in the eye of the beholder, however, as New Problems is far more adventurous than that recycle-bin description anticipates, sequencing idiosyncratic acoustic songs with experimental segues that create Smith’s own pirate radio signal.
Breaking down these twenty tracks and familiarizing yourself between full songs and interludes is half the fun of New Problems, as the lack of spacing between tracks blurs boundaries and groups handfuls of tracks into like-minded moods. (Being that my digital copy of New Problems is actually fused into two mp3-chunks – side 1 and side 2 of the record, respectively – my job of titling tracks correctly became unusually difficult.) Intermissions range from the brief and warped psychedelic passages of ’69’ and ‘Black Beauty’ to the melodic but secretive ‘Precious Lady’ and ‘In the Evening’ (the latter of which is such a tender highlight, I wish it had been expanded a bit); each of these providing a muddled distraction between the fully-finished songs. Smith applies a stripped-down pressure on the Dog Day-ready ‘Warm Regards’ and ‘Fish’ while retaining his post-punk tone on the near-bluesy ‘No Driver’, but the most affecting of tracks feature Smith’s more meditative songwriting. Gravitating from blown-bass to sweetened toy-box notes on ‘Nice’ is the instrumental inversion of the song’s lyrical tone, as Smith’s refrain of “I’ll give you everything you want” dissolves into “I will kill you and eat you”; two statements which are likely not one in the same. Yet the songwriter’s voice takes a more pacified role on ‘Transformer’, a beautifully understated, anti-love song.
Churning out lo-fi gems as often as rustic ruminations, the backbone of New Problems lies not in the former or latter, but in their constant convergence. The edits and sequencing which turns this odds’n’ends compilation into a bonafide album, well-planned and harmonious, deserve the gold star here. Let’s hope Smith remains as prolific in the future as the last few years have proven, and we hear a second scrapbook sometime soon.