“nearly makes it, but slips on more than the last hurdle…”
There are big, big boots to fill when it comes to writing a primarily acoustic-guitar based record. Let us not beat about the bush: if you are going down that path, something else is needed to carry the album through it’s ten or dozen or however many tracks without it lagging. Some succeed, most fail. Benjamin Francis Leftwich’s debut full length Last Smoke Before the Sun nearly makes it, but slips on more than the last hurdle.
The release of this full length, today incidentally, was rather anticipated amongst those who have heard of this chap. After the charmingly disparate A Million Miles Out EP of late 2010, featuring the brilliant Atlas Hands, Last Smoke Before the Sun seems a bit too polished, clean and worked on. Don’t get me wrong. I was not expecting Lua or Angeles, but unfortunately comparisons can’t not be made.
The record opens with Pictures, released back in March. For a new listener you’ll think “yeah, it’s nice…”; as an opener, it doesn’t grip you but more dulls the senses with it’s repetition and monotony. For all that though, it is a cute song for all the first-loves and rightly followed by the ‘lovely’ Box of Stones. By the end of this one though, if you’re attention is not wavering and the record isn’t slipping into background noise, 1904 will most certainly do that for you.
That lagging mentioned earlier is rectified by Atlas Hands, a Ben Gibbard-esque take on lost love with a couple of charming lines and cutesy finger picking going on (YouTube). However when this is over the album slips back in to its musical equivalent of trudging through snow until half been picked up by the waiting-to-be-used-in-The-fuckin-OC Shine. At this point, you may as well turn the record off.
So what is there to say? It isn’t a bad record, but Leftwich exhibits an inflexible approach which is exacerbated by most tracks been produced too cleanly. Lyrically the chap is decent and wears his heart on his sleeve but this is not reflected within the instrumentation of the tracks themselves. Which is a real shame. The 2010 and 2011 EPs were spot on, but scaled up to a full length record? No, it doesn’t quite have that something else…