It’s sometimes daunting to keep up with the oeuvre of Steven R. Smith — a labyrinth of releases under the names Ulaan Khol, Ulaan Markhor, Ulaan Passerine, and Hala Strana, among others. Though, it might be noted, he saves a particularly potent mix of psychedelia, folk, and the looser ends of jazz for works under his own name. With Spring, Smith crosses paths with longtime collaborator Gareth Davis, the Amsterdam-based bass clarinetist. While his other works, particularly under the Ulaan monikers can often swerve into lost soundtrack territory, its those unravelling ends of jazz and the freer moments of rock that are offered up this time around. Smith’s guitars lay heavy, wrapping around the headspace with a prowl that plays the foil to his more inquisitive piano and Davis’ headstrong breezes of clarinet.
Spring is searching, grasping, trying to hold onto the wind in places. The album is meditative, but in a way that’s also a bit crushing. The contemplation seems to only dig up the heavier hollows of the mind. The instruments seem set in their roles — his piano always the explorer, his guitar the doubt, and Davis’ bass clarinet changing like quicksilver in the sun. Sometimes he’s the serenity rippling over the nerves, other times the anxiety eating away at the ache of the mind. While there’s never a raw wrinkle in Smith’s catalog, I often enjoy his ‘solo’ albums the best and Spring follows nicely on the psychedelic folk of In The Spires, pulling away from the previous album, but never quite losing its shadow. The album latches hold of the listener, digging in and pulling them back like a longing each time.
Support the artist. Buy it HERE.