Smidley – ‘Smidley’

By Sean Littlewood

Conor Murphy is most known for the crucial sadness of his work with Foxing. Tackling this effort alone and under a separate name, ‘Smidley’ finds him branching out into unknown waters. Densely layered and dreamier than anything that’s come before, the result is a refreshingly experimental record that’s hard at its core yet soft at its edges.

Optimism is not something that comes easy to Murphy, and this is reflected in the aptly named album opener ‘Hell’. Blending a darker indie pop sound with the looser feel of some his later work with Foxing, the track ends with a grandeur of the horns that have become such a prominent part of his band’s live shows.

His voice is powerful and pure, a theme of the record throughout, and the lack of emotional tension allows it to be heard in ways it never has before. It still strains and pines, especially on second song ‘No One Likes You’ where he asks “I’m boring but I’m trying, does that count just a little bit?” but in this light it shines more carefree and joyful than it has before.

‘Dead Retrievers’, one of the record’s singles, carries things along perfectly. A breezy number that screams Band of Horses in the best way possible, it utilises a mellowing beat, huge chorus and screeching guitar solo outro to mark the point where ‘Smidley’ really comes into its own. Damaged and frantic, but reaching out to places unexplored, you can almost feel the splashes as Murphy wrestles with the tide of his exciting new musical phase.

Tackling all musical components himself, it’s interesting to hear the lack of resemblance to other more typical solo attempts. At times the sound grows to something larger than the sum of its parts. The result is something infinitely more interesting and challenging than what’s normally to be expected from a record of its kind. ‘Smidley’ explores and experiments as much as it throws out gut-wrenchingly good songs.

Pulling in members of Tigers Jaw and Sorority Noise for two tracks fills the album with a more community feel, pushing its unshackled nature even further. Out of the ten tracks, not a single one plunges into anything beyond remarkable. Each sees Murphy’s emotionally pure, compelling song-craft grow into something even more brilliant and smart. Where ‘Fuck This’ might soar into the realms of contemporary modern rock, the serene melodies of ‘It Doesn’t Tear Me Apart’ coolly lulls things into something more Iron and Wine.

Perhaps it’s to be expected from the singer of Foxing, but ‘Smidley’ is a loose, exciting journey through the psyche of an exceptional songwriter. Named after Murphy’s beloved black Labrador, it opens the door to a homely place where musical boundaries need not exist. When it decides to, it roars with exceptional energy. When it lands on more tender ground it soothes with a fragile softness that seemingly no one can manage as adeptly. Earnest, beautiful and untamed, it’s a stunning debut that dazzles with alluring beauty.

SEAN LITTLEWOOD

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