Fits & Starts

A Certain Smile

Ice 9, 2017

REVIEW BY: Benjamin Ray


An album gloriously out of time, Fits & Starts is an accurate throwback to ‘80s alternative and jangle pop that never once feels forced or retro.

It’s also an album that took a long time to come together, as the genesis for A Certain Smile started in 2003 on the East Coast when Thomas Andrew and his friend Tom Fleischer were in college. The band was called Ports Of Call then and a handful of their songs are here on the debut, though Fleischer has since moved on. In 2014, Andrew moved to Portland and started up A Certain Smile properly, in addition to hosting a radio show each week that traffics in this sort of dreamy shoegaze indie pop.

To hardcore followers of these scenes, Andrew’s citation of influences like Field Mice, Pale Saints, and McCarthy will truly mean something. For those a little less well-versed, my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250 Fits & Starts has strong flavors of the Stone Roses and the British indie scene of the late 1980s, captured on the now-legendary C86 tape compiled by NME. The jangly, dreamy twin-guitar attack of those bands and somewhat lo-fi approach to recording is effortlessly recreated by the band here, but again, this is more of an homage and spiritual home than a nostalgia trip.

It helps that Andrew’s lyrics span 15 years of life lived, and in these nine songs he touches on found love and lost love, childhood bullying, doing something you know is wrong but feels right at the time, and the passing of the torch to the next generation. The music coasts along behind Andrew high-pitched, dream-like voice, creating a final product that’s not especially memorable but hits a sweet spot while it plays, like a sepia-toned photo album of a childhood friend you haven’t seen since 6th grade.

The final four songs on the album are the best, starting with the anti-bullying “Aberdeen” (so named for Kurt Cobain’s hometown, which Andrew spent some time driving through to soak in) and moving to the punchy, Pulp-esque “Leisure Class.” However, “We Want The World” is the best song here, a fuzzy bass (Dustin White) riff and some plucked guitar notes introducing the song before drummer Andy Disney slides in. For a song about youth rising up and seizing their moment, the music is aptly kinetic, White’s propulsive bass riff keeping the other players on their toes. Zach Selley’s second guitar and keyboards add the whooshing background noises, though the song’s brilliance is in its slide from the major chord-chorus to the minor-chord verse and then to the energetic coda. Like your youth, it’s something you wish could go on longer than it does.

If the rest of the album doesn’t live up to the brilliance of that track, it’s more because these songs come from a long gestation period in Andrew’s mind alone and so feel more like a solo effort; witness the difference between the band-written “Leisure Class” and something like “Morning Sun.” It’s likely the second album will feature more collaboration and a true band aesthetic, but based on this waning-days-of-summer album, A Certain Smile is off to a great start.

Rating: B-

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