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Album Review: Smilex – La Petite Mort

‘Le Petite Mort’ (French) Translation – The Little Death

A common criticism aimed at new music over the last decade or so has been that it is too sanitised; the bands coming out have lost their edge. Everything is too polished. To some extent I agree, especially in rock the spark that made it exciting and made you sit up and take notice has definitely diminished. However, and it is a big however music is such a wide spectrum that I believe that if you look hard enough you will find something you like. That’s why I want to point everyone who is feeling a little disillusioned with the mainstream towards this band and this album.

Smilex are Lee Christian (Vocals) Tom Sharp (Guitar & Vocals) Olivia Luce (Bass) and Pat Holmberg. (Drums) Oxford has never been so rock and roll, trust me. With a career spanning over a decade you might have expected the rawness and grittiness to have worn off a little by now… oh how wrong you would be.

One of the things that really stood out to me on this record was the witty lyrics. The blending of these lyrics into the songs is like venturing into the mind of a mad man. Opening track ‘9hz’ contains one of my favourite lines on the whole album. How can ‘I’ve got no fuckin balls but I’m gonna run for president’ not raise a smile? The main guitar riff is quite simple but it will be going round your head for days, but things kick up a gear in the second half of the song giving a real insight into what is to follow.

‘Deadman’s Dirge’ is a completely different affair. This is a straight up punk from start to finish. It’s markedly shorter than the opener and rattles along at 100 mph before descending into guitar crashing chaos of the best kind. One of the things that really struck me aboutt the album is the sheer variety on display; each track is different to the one that went before it. The opening to ‘Wasted Youth’ is pretty stripped back and the drop in tempo almost gives the listener a breather. I commented on the lyrics already above, and here again this cleaver song writing is evident, with lyrics like ‘I lost my heart on the sole of her shoe.’

‘Revive The Revival’ sees the unique vocal delivery from Christian come to the fore, at times he is almost rapping the lyrics but with such an exuberance that makes them stand out. The gritty guitar solo also stands out. On a record full of contrasts ‘What Is It You Actually Do Again?’ goes as far as providing the contrasts in the same song. The intro and the verses are pretty subtle and skip along almost like an indie track, but the chorus is forced out over crashing drums with an almost primeval scream. The various tempo changes and progressions here also go to show that on a technical level these guys are cut from a different cloth to your average rock band.

The next track ‘La Valse Macabre’ had me testing out what is left of my brother’s GCSE French to translate the title. ‘Macabre’ is pretty straight forward but we found ‘Valse’ a struggle, it apparently translates as ‘Waltz.’ This all becomes clear when you actually hear the track, as the main section follows the traditional structure of a waltz. Random? Yes but incredibly creative. This waltz is then set against a more expansive sound reminiscent of early Muse. ‘Evil’ sees the band take a Rise Against The Machine’ shaped leaf out of the rock handbook. The vocal is as unique as ever, the drumrolls impressive and certainly mixed with some DNA from ‘Killing In The Name Of.’

The intro to ‘Manatee’ deliberately or not definitely pays homage to ‘Ghost Town’ by The Specials. The eerie, and horror inspired delivery of the verses is a nice addition to the track as a whole. ‘Please Do Not Feed The Drugchild’ has to be one of my favourite song titles of all time. It might childish but that did raise a smile. As for the song itself it has a more traditional rock feel to it than any other on the album. The pace is a characteristically quick one until almost everything drops away leaving just a vocal, along with gentle guitar and drums. That is until the guitar launches into a sensational solo as the track reaches its zenith.

The rolling drums at the beginning of final track ‘One Man Woman’ are a nice variation and start the song off really well. The track is gentler than most of what has gone before it, and it is no surprise that it has received radio play. The edge is still there but there it has more listenabilty. (I do believe I have created a new word there. I’ll you have that for free) However, it’s almost as if the band couldn’t resist one more adrenaline filled blast of vocal screeching insanity before they collapse in a heap and the album comes to a close, and that wild sound returns to take centre stage one more time.

There are so many blends of styles, sounds and influences on this album it’s hard to know where to start. I’d be lying if I said that how good this record is will hit you immediately because for me it really didn’t. It took 3 of 4 spins front to back for me to really get to grips with it but with every listen I discovered something new that I liked. It’s one of the most interesting and engaging projects that I have had the pleasure of reviewing. Ever.

When you name your album after a phrase that can be used to describe a feeling of post-orgasmic exhaustion, you really are letting the world know that you aren’t the ordinary and this record certainly isn’t. It’s a gritty and intense journey into a world you recognise but thought you would never experience and when you slide your headphones off, like after all great nights you’ll sit back with a quiet satisfaction, and a feeling of contentment. ‘What a ride that was… but man I’m knackered.’

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