Gerard Smith 2021
Stalwart of rock city’s scene reaches for the hypnagogic jugular to pursue progressive reveries.
However rich the music Gerard Smith cooks with his friends in BILL GROGAN’S GOAT may be, its edge never really touched upon cerebrally emotional art-rock and other oxymorons that the title of the veteran’s third solo full-length opus brings to mind, alluding to “Larks’ Tongues In Aspic” by you-know-whom. This hint is well-grounded, because the complexity of Smith’s record is as audacious and as palatable, and whatever puns there are they’re par for the course for what Gerard paints here.
For all its intellectual slant, the songs on “Lullabies” are riff-laden enough to keep the listener’s focus sharp throughout the album, as the stumblingly heavy “Standing Stones” posits from the start, throwing effects-drenched vocals into the stereo panorama of psychedelic swirl and turning funky groove into a spaced-out bliss before Celtic motifs place the tune onto an open field where Smith’s bouzouki and guitar can dance till dusk. So when “Waves Of Confusion” tries to disrupt the resulting trance by weaving acoustic web around folksy balladry, the mesmeric caress will only intensify this state, hefty licks notwithstanding, and the punctured flamenco will fail to offer an escape route – although one should hardly look for an exit from such a soul-searching exercise.
Still, after Tom Phillips’ bass has introduced metal to the flow, “Breathe” doesn’t deliver on its airy promise, raging instead in the void that Paco Higdon’s ivories trim with cosmic flourishes and Justin Velic’s drums propel to delirium, but Gerard’s mandolin-laced rustic melody is bound to provide a safety net for the epic piece’s abyss, and finally unfold progressive wonders to devour its horrors. Which is why the deceptively simple serenade “Sweet Dreams And Soft Mornings” – the titular berceuse – is more than welcome, even given a solemn soundscape, as a respite from the preceding aural assault. Yet the song’s honeyed harmonies ebb away to usher in the histrionically unhinged, organ-bolstered “Third Eye” and then “The Storm”: another expansive sonic spectacle, shaping the album’s thunderous, if riveting, finale.
But there’s also “The Nest” – an immersive bonus that draws on traditional lines and power attack – meaning Smith’s vaults have plenty of riches raring to be let out in the wild. Don’t fall asleep just yet, then.