Summarizing The Smith Street Band is a bit difficult. While I want to lump them in with folk-punk, that’s only true in song structure. There’s far too much electric guitar to drop that name on them—and maybe too much to just label it “punk.” Think Against Me! without the shouting. The roots are in a louder version of folk-punk, but the songs are more expansive, the volume is cranked up, and the influence is far reaching. At times the big guitars remind of classic rock and at others it feels like the aforementioned Against Me!: personal, honest, and direct. It’s a folk underbelly with a loud rock base, delivered via punk honesty.
What dominates that sound is the blend of personal lyricism and big, loud guitars. The opening to “Surrey Drive” is winding and distinct—and notably lacking in power chords. Yes, chords still make plenty of appearances in the song, but that lead is always taking it in a new and less predictable direction without straying too far off path into self-absorbed showmanship. The songs are expansive and powerful, yet neatly concise and direct—which is essential given the storytelling vocals that focus around a personal, yet out-looking voice. Take “The Arrogance of the Drunk Pedestrian” as an example. The song builds in energy and fervor, culminating with a final crescendo that gives an epic feeling. All the while it clocks just 4:01.
The record is well sequenced, balancing this powerful song with more direct punk songs like the following “Get High, See No One,” which is a straight forward rocker in typical verse-chorus-verse format. Whenever the band gets a bit weighty, they tone it back and let the bouncier tracks which gives some needed levity. There’s a time to pound out aggression and another time to dance it away, and The Smith Street Band straddle that line throughout Throw Me in the River.
Despite the earlier reference to guitar rock, a key difference is that Smith Street Band rarely lets a single piece take hold of the song. While that lead guitar is doing unique things that take the songs in new directions, the rest of the group is sharing the stage and it’s very egalitarian. A few guitar licks in the title track push that ‘70s rock influence a bit too much, but they’re subdued enough that it keeps the song short and tight.
Across the board, the 11 songs here are well varied and there are no throwaways in the bunch. While Wil Wagner doesn’t show much vocal range, his voice is powerful and nuanced enough that it doesn’t become tiresome during the 45 minute record, despite the fact that vocals accompany the music at almost all times. Throw Me in the Riveris a strong record with a lot of pull, and it feels like one that will grow even more with further listens.
8.0 / 10
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