You are probably way ahead of me on this, but have you picked up on the latest Smoosh album ‘Withershins’? It came out in June this year, but I’ve only just discovered it thanks to a fortuitous Facebook message the other evening from their Mom. She pointed me to their Bandcamp page, where you can download the album for free. Well, free in exchange for your email address, which isn’t giving much away is it? Especially for what you get in return, which in this case is a beguiling and gloriously magical album.
It feels somewhat strange to be talking about a group’s third album when the oldest member is only eighteen years old, and also perhaps odd to describe it as a significantly more mature work than either of their previous two sets, but then Smoosh have never been your typical group. Even when they grabbed some attention via their ‘She Like Electric’ debut for being a ‘tweenie’ group (singer Asy was 12 at the time and drummer sister Chloe 10) there was something that stood out as being different. For this was no Disney Club schtick, no parent-driven desperate lunge for Pop stardom, but rather a refreshingly natural flash of exuberance. Kids making music because they needed to. Because it was fun. What more should there possibly be?
I remember talking about Smoosh with Lawrence when we did the interview that eventually ended up in ‘Foxtrot Echo Lima Tango’. He had not yet heard them at the time but was nevertheless certain they would be magical. The cover shot on that issue of 'Plan B' magazine was enough: so perfectly posed and poised - the language of the truly natural Pop performers. There was something elusive and special. Something you could not quite put your finger on. It was a perfect reflection of their music at the time too: a strangely shy confidence mixing with the natural euphoria of childhood. As I’ve said many times, it made for a magical and special Pop confection.
Jump forward some six years to ‘Withershins’ and it’s a similar story. Smoosh still sound like something magical and strangely elusive, but with the air of their ages. Which is to say that they sound moodier and more reflective; less inclined to jump around on the trampoline in the back yard and more likely to hang out in coffee houses on cobbled streets reflecting on life, the universe and everything that is, you know, important to kids in their late teens. From some that could inevitably result in something that sounded forced, and God knows there are more than enough dreary bands drenched in obsessions with Joy Division and irritating angst. Not so Smoosh. Theirs is more of a hypnotic daydream; a smart, sharp sideways glance cast through morning drizzle. There is a wonderful photo of Asy and Chloe in an old side-street, looking like stars in a Godard film. It is a fine visual encapsulation of much of the ‘Withershins’ set, for there is a similarly stylish restraint in this record. A refusal to engage in the obvious, the fashionably mainstream or the easy way out. We’ve said it so many times in the past - the mystery in Pop is not just important, it is utterly essential. And Smoosh have mystery.
Just what exactly is Asya singing about in moody album opener ‘Finnerödja’ for example? Is this a street she’s talking about? The small town near Stockholm? Just a word that sounds great in a song? All, or none of the above? Whichever, it makes for a wonderful song that casts obscured echoes of ‘Hounds Of Love’ or Cocteau Twins. But maybe that’s just me showing my age.
Indulge me and my age a little longer, however, because in a parallel world where we can slip back and forwards through time, ‘Withershins’ is released in the classic 4AD era with a captivating Vaughan Oliver sleeve - hints of a european gothic aesthetic rather than a gloomy Northern England Goth vision. I’m sure too that there would be a Smoosh presence on the This Mortal Coil albums in that alternate world…
Back in the resolutely here and now, however, the truth of the matter is that in ‘Withershins’ Smoosh have turned out an album that shows how precocious and prodigious talent and commitment can develop and blossom into fascinating flower. It’s already slipped to the top of my ‘records of the year’ pile, and I can only image with giddy anticipation what they might produce with another few years of experience. Smoosh are already kissing the skies. Now let’s watch how they conquer the universe beyond.