David Shane Smith isn’t on a label. He doesn’t seem to have a press kit or even readily available promo pics I could use to help me with this post. I had to bug him to send a photo 7 weeks after writing this article when I saw him at an open mic night in Brooklyn the other day. He doesn't sell his CDs, just gives them away. They come in homemade slip covers with cute little drawings of pitchforks and such on the outside. Sometimes they’re even just pieces of magazine paper folded in fancy ways to keep the discs from falling out. The songs on his latest homemade album, Wintertower, are hand written in blue - maybe Bic, maybe Papermate - I can’t tell. Everything about Smith screams low maintenance - hell, each time I’ve seen him perform he’s been in a white V-neck and jeans. But his music, an inventive melding of diverse influences (folk, ambient, indie, hip-hop) creates a sonic world that is both challenging and comfortable, and displays a talent far beyond his unassuming presentation.
First of all, his songs are wildly eclectic, melding the above mentioned influences into something striking and unique. Smith is the type of ever-evolving artist that has a hard sound to pin down because of its constant artistic flux. Depending on the night you catch him you may hear whispers of Nick Drake in his songs, the next one of those crazed murder ballads from the Violent Femmes second album, and another an Amnesiac b-side. Whatever his muse, his music is always gripping, darkly poetic, and full of rich detail that can be strikingly direct or painfully obtuse.
Wintertower is the result of dabbling in looped electronics and mixing it with an almost spoken word vocal approach. It’s the sound of a man and a machine learning to live with and love one another - naked emotion wrapped in 0’s and 1’s. Songs like “Dead Battery”, “Garbage Bag”, and “Wintertower” stack beautifully bleak lines (“I’m like a suicide note blowing in the wind”; “leave your graveyard skin behind”; “sleeping like a crack in the Earth”) against spooked beats and stark sound effects. Images of deserted cities, urban decay, failed governments and Gods, and cold isolation bleed out of the speakers - the world in Wintertower’s songs is haunted and desolate, saved only by the occasional burst of joyous melody such as in the last minute of “Garbage Bag”.
Love Songs was Smith’s previous collection of songs. Consisting of 9 simple, lo-fi folk songs, the album is plaintive and humble, allowing Smith’s voice and words to penetrate undisturbed. Starting with a would be thesis statement - “you can’t keep love/you can’t keep something that’s invisible”, the album traces the side effects of love through the intimate accounts of the lyrics. If Wintertower is more impressive sonically, then Love Songs is easily the more focused and accessible of the two, combining Smith’s sophisticated wordplay with an almost placid sense of melody. “Her Song” is my favorite - a haunting tale of a girl/woman struggling to find her place in a world where men have left her battered and bruised. It has more great lines than some artists come up with over an entire career.
Talking to David the other night led to a few interesting bits of information. First of all, his myspace page was recently infected with porn spam - lots of it and uncontrollable, so he’s had to start over from scratch with a new page (click here). So go be his friend - he’s lost 800 of them.
Also, his last New York show will be at Brooklyn’s Bar 4 (soon, can’t remember the date he told me, sorry, keep checking their page) before a permanent move out to the West Coast.
Previously on Talkin‘ New York: