REVIEW: The Smith Street Band – ‘Throw Me In The River’

Artist: The Smith Street Band
Album: Throw Me In The River
Label: Poison City Records / SideOneDummy Records
Genre: Folk-Punk, Punk

The past few years have seen Melbourne, Australia’s The Smith Street Band grow from local cult favourites to international touring, folk-punk juggernaut. Much of that rise to prominence can be attributed to two factors: the unprecedented success of their critically acclaimed LP, Sunshine and Technology, and the band’s relentless and tireless approach to touring in support of that release. A sleeper hit, Sunshine and Technology opened the world’s doors to The Smith Street Band and the band’s renowned live show and affable personalities ensured those doors were blown off of their hinges. The downside of this success and the increased touring schedule it brought was a fan base left pining for what seemed like an eternity for a sophomore effort.

After temporarily satiating cravings with 2013’s excellent Don’t Fuck With Our Dreams EP, The Smith Street Band are finally due to unleash their third full-length, Throw Me In The River, and after constantly playing it for the best part of two weeks, I am pleased to say that it was well worth the wait.

A more mature and fully realised record than Sunshine and Technology, Throw Me In The River finds The Smith Street Band expanding their trademark style to incorporate new influences, all the while remaining true to the core elements that have made the band so beloved by fans. The result is a record that is at once devastatingly honest and yet undeniably uplifting. Recorded in a cottage in the pristine surrounds of The Otways in the band’s native Victoria, Throw Me In The River takes the listener on an auditory tour of the last three years of their existence, providing stunning insight into the reality of the band’s being. Expertly produced by Jeff Rosenstock (Bomb The Music Industry!) and mixed by Jonathan Low (The War On Drugs, The National), the production strikes the perfect balance between rustic charm and radio-friendly polish, placing the band’s greatest asset, vocalist Will Wagner’s impassioned delivery, up front where it belongs. Wagner, for his part, delivers as only he can, throwing his all into every heavily-accented word, as he belts out lyrics that detail experiences of life in places as disparate as Winnipeg, Salt Lake City, Calgary, London, New York and North Melbourne.

A triumph of sequencing, Throw Me In The River opens in stellar fashion with “Something I Can Hold In My Hands,” a slow burning number that sets the record’s introspective tone as Wagner delivers an impassioned opening lament on the gradual gentrification of inner Melbourne suburbia (“Stories from southern explorers / tell of vastly open skies / all I can see is sweat and concrete / I avert my eyes / they put scaffolding and warning signs on the things we used to climb / fences upon fences / and told us to stay inside”) over sparse instrumental accompaniment, before exploding to life in spirited defiance as Wagner recounts the personal transformation his musical journey has seen him undertake, claiming victory over naysayers, the powers that be and his own personal doubts as he screams, “All I ever needed was something that I could hold in my hands, and here it is.”

“Something I Can Hold In My Hands” is followed by the more up-tempo lead single, “Surrender.” An absolute corker of a track which features the witty lyricism, unbridled passion and raw instrumentation the band is famous for, “Surrender” perfectly encapsulates the band’s sound as it places unashamed honesty next to shrewd songwriting craft in a beautiful tandem that will have your ears and your soul aching for more. Thankfully, the remaining 8 tracks more than satiate those cravings as the band takes you on a roller coaster ride of human emotions. From the determined defiance of “Surrey Dive In” to the quiet, reflective contemplation of “Calgary Girls” and “Throw Me In The River,” and onwards to the jubilation of the appropriately titled “I Love Life,” Throw Me In The River is the sound of a life lived and not merely survived.

While Wagner is undoubtedly the star of this show and it is his ability to find deeper meaning in not just the milestones, but the minutiae of modern life that has grown to become the band’s calling card, Throw Me In The River is by no means a solo venture, and it is the performances of the other members of The Smith Street Band that lift Throw Me In The River from being a good folk-punk record to a status of essential listening. There is efficiency in the performances of Lee Hartney (guitar), Fitzy Firzgerald (bass) and Chris Cowburn (drums) that enables Wagner’s lyrics to shine, as if every note is perfectly tailored to accentuate the meaning of the words being sung, and the band feels like a more cohesive unit than they did on Sunshine and Technology.

Whether it be creating an eerie atmosphere in the quiet moments of “The Arrogance of The Drunk Pedestrian” or “Throw Me In The River,” or adding a joyous pop sensibility to “I Don’t Want To Die Anymore,” or rocking out in riotous fashion in “East London Summer,” Hartney, Fitzy and Cowburn nail every note, giving the songs a feeling of connectedness that many artists strive for a lifetime to achieve. Particularly impressive is the manner in which the rhythm section is deployed, not just as a backbone but as a core component of each song’s structure, with Fitzy and Cowburn providing several moments in which their innovative performances add depth to the tracks. It is a credit to the band that they have been able to harness the energy and urgency of their live performances in a studio setting and a credit to the production team that the intricacies of each member’s performance has been maintained. It is the combination of each of these elements that gives Throw Me In The River the raw power in which it thrives.

Unashamedly honest, undeniably accomplished and unapolagetically passionate, Throw Me In The River is a record that needs to be heard. These are not just songs crafted to be the soundtrack of our lives, or even about life; these songs are life and life is beautiful. To quote Wagner himself, “I love you so fucking much right now.”

SCORE: 9/10
Review written by Brenton Harris — (follow him on Twitter)

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4 Responses to “REVIEW: The Smith Street Band – ‘Throw Me In The River’”

  1. Bob says:

    Third full length. Shoddy journalism

  2. Brian Lion says:

    Yeah, we made a minor mistake. We’re the worst. I’m sure your review is far superior.

  3. Bob says:

    Damn right motherfucker

  4. Brian Lion says:

    Troll on, friend. We love it.