The Upshot: After several spins of this album, its anthemic qualities begin emerging, and once they do, you can’t get ‘em out of your head, earworm style.
BY FRED MILLS
The proverbial “sleeper” in every sense of the word: Graham Smith’s umpteenth release bolts out of the gate in uncompromising fashion, courtesy the brashly abrasive riff of “Practical Effects,” a slice of dissonant pop marked by his nasal vox and complementary/adversarial vocal harmonies. It sets the listener up for a potentially uneasy listening experience. And yeah, that voice is an acquired taste, the kind that almost turns sour by the time you flip the album from side A to side B—did I mention that Vana Mundi arrives on digital and sweet, delightful 180gm black vinyl?—for “The Mesomorph,” all a-focus with double-tracked and harmony-abetted vocals.
But c’mon Mr. Reviewer, you say, haven’t you given, ahem, heroes of yours who are also idiosyncratic singers, like Bob Dylan, Neil Young, and Richard Hell, plenty of passes over the years? Correct; and as with those musical icons, Graham Smith has a hard-to-pin-down emotional and sonic quality that eventually charms one out of his or her critical tree and makes ‘em a believer. In another era, Kleenex Girl Wonder would’ve been a flagship act on New Zealand’s vaunted Flying Nun label, in all their shambling-yet-mesmerizing glory. Early Merge Records releases also come to mind, as Smith uncannily intuits how to be shouty and passionate at the same time—not a small task. After several spins of this album, its anthemic qualities begin emerging, and once they do, you can’t get ‘em out of your head, earworm style.
Oh, and just to obliterate my entire argument about those idiosyncratic vocals: There’s a track called “Impossible Shadow” that, with its tingly indie-pop arrangement and massed vocal harmonies, clearly marks Smith as a Brian Wilson/Beach Boys acolyte. It’s a lightbulb moment, and a sonic epiphany. This dude’s a rare talent.
DOWNLOAD: “Sounds Good,” “Impossible Shadow,” “Sunday Night Fever”