Tuesday, January 4, 2011

April Smith and the Great Picture Show

In the dawning post of 2011, we'll take a final look at a release from the preceding year in the form of the vaudevillian patterns of Songs for a Sinking Ship, out just over a year ago by Brooklyn quintet, April Smith and the Great Picture Show. The theatrical but not overwrought debut features Smith's hearty vocals and acoustic guitar parts thoroughly supported by her capable bandmates.

The outfit stakes out ground somewhere between the Squirrel Nut Zippers and Rilo Kiley on the 11-track effort. The tempo is feisty but not overpowering from the outset number, "Movie Love a Screen." While Smith's full and bright vocals here are clearly the attraction, the ensemble is no group of stragglers along for the ride. Drummer Nick D'Agostino's thumping bass drum launches the sound and continues loud and rubbery throughout, not a distracting, but enhancing presence, which bassist Stevens ultimately augments. Ukulele parts by Dan Romer and Beth Rogers, plus an uncredited trumpet backing all add to the swing-jazz swagger.

Fans of Showtime series Dexter and Weeds will be familiar with the second track, "Terrible Things." With a bit more rocking character than its predecessor and some haunting organ work by Malo, Smith nails the vocal part, opening up more of her range and ratcheting-up the volume. It's easy the collection's best offering, albeit perhaps a bit too short at just 2:21.

Conversely, the full-bodied ballad "Drop Dead Gorgeous" is the album's lengthiest, and finds Smith approaching the conviction of Rilo Kiley's Jenny Lewis on "I Never." By no means a weak-sounding effort, the song's protagonist is conflicted in assessing her lover's intellect versus their looks. At the same time, following the bridge, the key modulation that climbs into the final chorus reveals the group's synchronization, through which Smith navigates expertly and builds upon at its zenith.

And although the lounge-lizard "Can't Say No" is playful in a Gwen Stefani way, the mid-set "What I'll Do" lacks the vigor of the numbers that came before it, as does "Beloved" later on. But the zydeco-ish "Colors" when paired with the darkly sauntering "The One That Got Away" make up for those deviations from course. At the same time, the closing duo of "Wow and Flutter" and "Stop Wondering" are no filler tracks, as the former exudes a roaring 20's brashness and the latter includes some neat string accompaniment that supports a self-assured vocal finale by Smith, especially at the 22 seconds remaining mark. You'll just have to listen for yourself to uncover the twitter-tailored line.

Come for: "Terrible Things"
Stay for: "Movies Love a Screen"
You'll be surprised by: "Drop Dead Gorgeous"

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