- by Andy Brown Rating:8 Release Date:2016-12-02 Label: Kingfisher Bluez / Barely Regal Records
First let’s get the introductions out of the way. Body is Working is the debut album by Living Body, the latest project from Chicago born musician Jeff T. Smith. Smith has been based in Leeds for some time now, releasing his debut solo album Semicircle (under his Juffage moniker) all the way back in 2011. Living Body sees Smith evolve from the one-man band approach of his earlier work to collaborate with local musical luminaries, including Alice Rowan (Mayshe-Mayshe) and drummer Sarah Statham (Esper Scout) alongside long-time collaborators Katie Harkin (Sky Larkin) and Tom Evans (Vessels).
Living Body grew from a 2014 collaboration that saw Smith utilise the cavernous sounds of The Left Bank (a huge church in Hyde Park, Leeds) for a unique and memorable performance. The event was entitled Sonic Cauldron and it’s a phrase that seems equally apt to describe the rich and immersive sounds found on Body is Working.
Some albums just seem to come along at the right moment. It would be an understatement to say that politics in 2016 has been somewhat eventful (and downright terrifying at points too) and it’s that perilous political backdrop that makes ‘Declare Independence’ such an ideal opening song. Over the layered, dreamlike guitar crescendos and the songs defiant yet melancholic tones, Smith sings “But rest assured, I won’t vote for you”. It’s after this that the song really expands instrumentally, the band stretching their collective wings with startling results.
The euphoric rush of ‘Choose’ comes next and again sees Smith striking an equally defiant tone as he sings about those “sleeping on floorboards” and “speeding into nowhere”, encouraging them to “get out while you can”. Strength in the face of adversity and hope seem to be the primary messages here and, well, we could all do with a little hope sometimes. Musically the song sits somewhere between The Bends era Radiohead and Death Cab for Cutie at their most anthemic.
‘Slowburner’ acts as a brief interlude before we’re introduced to Harkin, through a lead-vocal performance on the frankly gorgeous ‘I Recollect’. The track appears to bring a moment of acquiesce as Harkin calmly sings, “there were so many aspirations lost along the way/ but what do they amount to now?”
‘Trail Mix, pt. 2’ throws us head first into the sonic cauldron (knew that phrase would surface again) with a potent mix of droning violins and David Lynch-esque guitars; it’s a deeply atmospheric and wholly beguiling piece of music. The songs are strong throughout but it’s the experimental spirit, typified by this particular track that keeps the album sounding so fresh.
At this point in the journey the tone of defiance that the record set out with has been replaced by something altogether more resigned yet no less powerful. ‘Heirloom’ is a gentle, graceful and overwhelmingly melancholic instrumental that builds and blooms around intricately interwoven guitars.
The project comes full circle with the arrival of the second Harkin-led song, ‘Last Few True’. Initially released as a live single to acknowledge the Sonic Cauldron event, this newly recorded version is no less beautiful. Aptly enough for the time of year it sounds a little like a Christmas song, although much more in the vein of Low than Noddy Holder.
‘Penumbra’ provides the albums second interlude before ‘Closer’ shifts gears and ends the album on a suitably fist-punching note. The song finds Smith musing, “you used to live a full life/ you used live a rich life/ now you’re living a lie and it’s breaking my heart”. Lyrically, the themes of adversity and struggle remain while sonically this is a song that pulls us from the previous tracks melancholia and firmly into the moment at hand.
As I said before, some albums just seem to come along at the right moment and the stars certainly seem to be aligning for Living Body. As well as managing to chime with the political mood there’s also something appropriately seasonal about this album and it will no doubt prove to be a suitable soundtrack for many a wintery walk for months to come. So wrap up warm kids and get Body is Working on your headphones.