There’s a familiarity in A. Smyth’s debut album Last Animals that would have you thinking you’re listening to an artist who has been around you your whole life. Its ten tracks are delivered with confidence and sure footing that leaves the ‘debut album’ tag pretty much redundant.
When recording started at the beginning of 2020, A.Smyth was riding the crest of a wave following performances at the Primavera Pro and All Together Now festivals, as well as garnering support from BBC 6 Music and RTE Radio 1 and having music featured on hit TV shows like Made In Chelsea.
As much of the industry focus on the single format, it’s refreshing to feel that Last Animals was produced with the vision of a full album. There’s cohesion in sound and content, and the pacing is perfect; listening to a stream, you’ll feel you’ve missed something by not reaching out to flip the record to side B halfway through.
Easing in with “Rain Boys”, the stall is set out early with synths and piano giving depth to folksy fingerpicked guitar and introducing A. Smyth’s soothing vocal. This indie-folk staple of sound on which the album is based provides consistency across the ten tracks. With that starting point secure, A. Smyth is able to build with great melody hooks, lyrics which touch on what it is to be human, and moments of adventurous genius that lift the music to another level in its genre.
The playful folk guitar in “Say You Won’t Mind” wouldn’t sound out of place on a film soundtrack. Like album closer, “Tempt” it discusses the human condition, dialling up the intimacy with closely mic’d guitars picking up every creak and slide on the steel strings and creating the impression that Smyth is inches from your ears.
He tackles humanity again on “River,” which he describes as being about, “That sense of loss you feel when you’re struggling to find your place in the world.” Later on “When It Calls” he identifies with someone else’s suffering, singing “I feel the river in your heart, I know the thunder ‘cause I feel it too.” It’s a simple metaphor but brutally effective.
There’s push and pull throughout the album; moments of calm and moments of intensity. A. Smyth strikes a balance perfectly and dictates the flow with a variety of devices. There are ambitious but brilliantly executed tempo changes in “Don’t Let Me Down”; “Yeah You Said” peaks with pulsing, detuning synths; overlapping and layered vocals give “Me and My Old Man” a desperate immediacy. The highlight comes on “When It Calls” as A. Smyth lets loose with a fuzzy, untidy, franticly brilliant guitar solo dripping with whatever it is Neil Young had bottled in his basement when he recorded “Down By The River”. It’s already the album’s stand out track, but the sound of that guitar coming out of left field is just excellent.
For fans of indie-folk and singer-songwriter styles, there are lots to love on Last Animals. Where A. Smyth has really excelled is in the smaller touches which take the songs in unexpected directions, creating a thoroughly engaging album you’ll be compelled to revisit regularly.