With his sound lying somewhere between John Martyn, David Gray, Noah and The Whale and The Triffids, John Smith‘s brand of dreamy acoustic pop is highly regarded, having attained glowing praise in such heavyweight music publications as Uncut, Total Guitar and The Independent. It isn’t hard to see why. One suspects that Solid Air must have been on heavy rotation at some point in his life, most likely still so, but I guess if you’re going to use a classic album as your career blueprint, you couldn’t really choose MUCH more wisely. Headlong is imbued with Martyn’s ghost from start to finish, haunting, but not with any kind of malice; quite the opposite, in actual fact.
It’s probably a good thing that endless comparisons with other artists flash through your brain upon listening to Headlong, for this surely implies that, although Smith respectfully rolls out the red carpet for his contemporaries, they are hurried along impatiently so as not to hog the limelight. This is why I have unruly scrawls in my notepad that say things like “Nut Gabwin”, which means I heard so many possible references that I took to writing them down in my own truncated nonsense compound words. So breaking the latter shorthand down, “Nut” means I heard Paolo Nutini during several songs, Peter Gabriel (“Gab”) here and there and “Win” implies I could somehow trace the remnants of the glossy 1980s musings of Steve Winwood circa Back In The High Life, though giving it another spin right now, I’m not entirely sure how I came to that conclusion!
All of this is somewhat irrelevant, however. The only thing you really need to know is that John Smith would BATTER Mac DeMarco in a seaside deckchair sleep-off. That is not meant as a damning critique, incidentally, but merely an appreciative nod to sun-lounger music performed with such comely allure. It’s not all about the soul-stroking melodies though; ‘Undone‘, for one, possesses some of the most striking imagery I’ve heard this year and paints Smith as something of a poet: “In my dreams you stand before me, seven stars around your head / there’s a world within your belly hanging by a golden thread / one hundred thousand running gates / from which I’m always running late…or so it seems“, and there are many classy vignettes such as this throughout, if you pay attention.
Truth is, John Smith would be an ideal drinking buddy under the clear blue skies of the most chilled out of music festivals. Just don’t ask him to put your tent up for you. One suspects he would be so laid back that it would take him all flipping week.
Headlong is out now through Barp Ltd.