Venturing off to record in the seclusion of the woods has become an indie rock trope. Ever since Justin Vernon took to his cabin for Bon Iver’s debut, rural isolation has become a signal that an artist is “coping” with something or “finding themselves.” Australian punk outfit The Smith Street Band are the latest to join these ranks with their third album, Throw Me in the River, only with less mournful results.
Instead of emerging from the woods of Victoria, Australia, with a newly found sense of purpose or wisdom, The Smith Street Band came up with a final product that’s more like a fine-tuned version of their previous efforts. There are plenty of bleak moments on the record, like the despair-ridden “Throw Me in the River”, but they show up in the form of vibrant pop-rock tracks instead of dreary, stripped-down ballads. The Smith Street Band, knowingly or not, have mastered the formula for alternative rock radio with Marcus Mumford-esque vocals, loud and melodic guitars, and a penchant for over-the-top execution.
That isn’t necessarily a fault of the band. They hit all the marks without becoming a self-parody, and that in itself is an accomplishment. But there’s little that stretches beyond the status quo of contemporary rock, save for a few moments. The jangling tones of “The Arrogance of the Drunk Pedestrian” work just fine on their own, but the track takes a turn for the better in the last minute. The band forgo the safe song structure in favor of noisy guitar jams and guttural screams. Though the band sounds rowdy enough on the album, there’s still a sense that there’s even more tenacity waiting to be awakened. Tracks like “Get High, See No One” find the band indulging their rougher tendencies while still maintaining their melodic sensibilities. Frontman Wil Wagner reveling in debauchery feels right in his wheelhouse.
As it stands, Throw Me in the River is only overshadowed by its own potential. Even though The Smith Street Band can do just fine putting out polished tracks like those collected here, they could still stand to get grimier.
Essential Tracks: “Get High, See No One”, “The Arrogance of the Drunk Pedestrian”