Posts Tagged ‘Smokescreens’

Favorite Albums of 2020

Here’s the year end list. I’m not gonna wax on about how this year was rough, we all know it was a shit year and even more so for artists. It was, however, a great year for recorded music, and I had a hard time not making this list about twice as long to show love for all the albums that lifted me this year. I’ve long been against the whole idea of numbered lists, so once again things are presented in quasi-alphabetical style (I always mess one or two up in creating this, but you get the point). I’ve included Bandcamp embeds where they exist, so if you have the means and find something new, please reach out and support the artists here. Looking forward to 2021 as another year that music makes getting through easier.

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Smokescreens

It would stand to reason that for a band as enamored with the sounds of New Zealand janglepop as Smokescreens, recording your next record with David Kilgour from The Clean at the helm might be checking a lifelong dream off the list. The Kiwi legend brought his producing touch to the record and the collaboration has netted an album that’s reverent to the past — shades of The Chills, Toy Love, The Bats, Verlaines, Go-Betweens, and naturally The Clean abound — and yet still captures a wistfulness that’s as timeless as ever. The jangles here are clean and polished but with that slight brittle edge that inevitably pushes them closer to the Aussie/Kiwi axis than to the Byrds disciples and C86 acolytes. Though they take at least a bit of swipe or two through the UK over the course of the album and lean in wholesale with a cover of Scottish band Scrotum Poles that’s reverent, yet provides the perfect fit for their sound.

The band’s last album peaked my interest hard and they only double down here. The runtime is short, Smokecreens are not ones to overstay their welcome, but each song endears A Strange Dream even further. Bittersweet, breezy, catchy without becoming a confection, the band and Kilgour have created the kind of jangle-pop classic that’s hunted down a generation or two later. With their harmonies slightly askew, the tumble of strings soaked in sun and streaked with silver clouds, I couldn’t build a better mixtape of what’s endearing about their chosen era of admiration. It’s clear that the band are themselves curators and collectors of jangle-pop’s past and their enthusiasm creates a link in the lineage of ‘80s Dunedin that’s hard to resist for those of us that are always looking for more from this wellspring.




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Smokescreens – “I Love Only You”

More from the upcoming Smokescreens LP today, with another track of jangled joy produced by NZ legend David Kilgour himself. A bit slower than the previous patter of “Fork In The Road,” the dreamy strains of “I Love Only You” are smeared in a sundown haze. Slow thuds of drums, a spring-fresh piano pound and Rosi’s imploring vocals all lead to a bit of a damn breaka around the two-minute mark. Paired up with a bit of in-studio behind the scenes and street side busking, the video gives a nice breezy visual to the song. Today needs a bit of triumph and heartfelt hubris and Smokescreens are here to serve both. The new album is on the way from Slumberland October 30th.



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Smokescreens – “Fork In The Road”

It’s rare that the a band’s most prominent inspiration locks on to produce an album, but it seems that after a couple of LPs with clear inspirations from The Clean, L.A. janglers Smokescreens nabbed the nod from David Kilgour himself and a more perfect pairing couldn’t have been born. The Kiwipop luminary headed to The States to produce the band’s third LP, A Strange Dream. and his hand guides the band to a more crystalline version of their sound. He even contributes a cover painting to the record. The band’s clearly hitting their stride within the first few bars, and the first single from the upcoming record is a bittersweet saunter through South Hemi pop — pulling at not only The Clean, but from the ranks of The Bats and The Go-Betweens for inspiration. “Fork In The Road” swoons into view with a rambling guitar line that opens up into cloudy harmonies and hilly basslines. Here’s hoping (and betting) the rest of the record is as delightful as this. A Strange Dream is out October 30th on Slumberland.



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Business of Dreams

I was surprised and delighted to see Corey Cunningham back at the controls of Business of Dreams so quickly. His eponymous LP from 2017 showed a deep love for the smeared and smudged end of the Creation catalog and more than a blushing brush with indie pop conduits Sarah, Postcard and Subway Organization. Folding back into his onetime home at Slumberland, where he previously worked in Terry Malts, the songwriter is riffling through the same single stacks as last time with a touch more polish and a slight step out into the sun. Where his previous album seemed custom made for long nights alone, the curl of fog around lamplight, and the drawn bedroom curtains, there’s a bittersweet edge to Ripe For Anarchy.

Blurred against the blare of the sun, the album’s still gum-stuck to the skitter of drum machines and hung on melancholia, but it’s also a perfect companion for enjoying the day and shirking off the lingering pang of depression that gnaws at the belly. Cunningham dips into the jar of jangles more often here, and even slips the beat altogether to croon against the soft pad of synths entangled in nylon strings with a heartsick heavenliness. While Business of Dreams might not be fully beach ready, RFA is out of the darkness and living for the little moments.

There’s something inherently perfect about synthpop for dealing with love and loss, and for every band that nails the nuance, ten more miss the mark horribly. On his sophomore outing, Cunningham proves to be not only an adept crafter of hooks, but an artist gifted with the ability to tap into just the right mix and measure of self-loathing, celebration, joy and frustration to make the genre work. He coats it all in an earworm bliss that’s hard to shake, making this an essential listen for the start of 2019, and likely a habitual home to return to as the year progresses.



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Smokescreens

Drawing breath from their love of Kiwi pop, Smokescreens’ second album bumps up the stakes and sharpens focus to match the exuberance and quirks inherit in albums from The Clean, 3Ds or The Great Unwashed. In tune with the wave of artists who made up the inaugural class of Flying Nun, Smokescreens have built their sound on a bedrock of jangles made to ring off the clouds, a relaxed lyrical style not overly fussed with cleanliness, and a close-quarters recording approach that makes the band sound like they’re playing from the comfort of your couch. Owing to members Corey Cunningham and Chris Rosi spending their off time in a few other bands (Terry Malts and Plateaus respectively), there’s more than a little punk and power pop that finds its way into the mix as well. Though much like the current crop of Aussie and NZ scrappers that have popped up in the wake of the Nun of late, the addition of a broader bent takes the record from pale imitation to interesting interpretation more often than not.

All this homage is nothing without the songs though, is it? Thankfully Smokescreens have a good handle on pop hooks and they stuff Used To Yesterday well full of them. From the bittersweet pine of the title track to the chewy nougat bounce on “Waiting For Summer” the record doesn’t spend much of its time weighing the listener down. Buoyancy abounds and its hard not to feel a slight sense of carefree bliss during the thirty minutes it takes for this one to wind its way through the speakers. In the best sense of South Hemi janglers and their UK counterparts, even when the record’s a bit somber its still pretty damn fun. They take cues from blissful mopers The Wake or McCarthy in this regard, turning their heartbreak into earworms for all to enjoy. Vaulting a head and a half above the songs on their debut, this is Smokescreens coming into their own even while they’re living out that life in thrift store shoes borrowed from friends of another era. They might not be wholly working in fresh kicks, but it looks and sounds good on them so we might as well all just enjoy the breezy results.



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Corey Cunningham on Tom Diabo – Dark Star

Corey Cunningham is one of those artists who has popped up on RSTB so often it seems silly he’s just now finding his way to Hidden Gems. With great releases from Terry Malts and Business of Dreams packed in his catalog he’s making a mark on 2018 with the sophomore release from Smokescreens, a collaboration with Chris Rosi of Plateaus. The through line in all of Cunningham’s work has been an effervescent brand of pop that bubbles to the surface over and over again. As such, I wondered what records he’d been harboring in his sphere of influences. Corey’s picked one more hidden than most in this series, the 1988 small press LP from Tom Diabo.

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Smokescreens – “Someone New”

While the band had me at “formed to honor their love of Kiwi pop bands” the fact that Smokescreens contains members of two long-running RSTB faves Terry Malts and Plateaus seals this for me. Their first LP came out on Corey Cunningham’s Parked In Hell records, and I’m quite sorry to have missed that, but consider me in for the long haul on their second album which is close approaching on Slumberand. “Someone New” is upfront about its love for The Clean but the band wrangles in bits of The Wake as well on this cut. The balance of jangle and fuzz is formidable and its close to bubbling over with frothy goodness. The cut is addictively re-playable and given its earworm tendencies, bodes well for a full album of fizz from the band.



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