Smile Empty Soul's debut perches on the edge of good

March 1, 2004, midnight | By Nick Falgout | 16 years, 10 months ago

Reading the back of Smile Empty Soul's first and self-titled CD is kind of like braving the depths of a goth's livejournal. Song titles like "With this Knife," "All My Problems" and "I Want My Life" do not inspire hope for new and original rock. Fortunately, Smile Empty Soul have a few more tricks up their sleeve than the song titles would attest to: they can play more than three chords, sing without screaming (although they certainly do), and can even spit out a respectable lyric with some frequency. Which isn't to say it's all sunshine and roses, but, in the end, it's certainly a cut above the rest.

The record starts off with the brooding, angry, clichéd and incredibly catchy "Bottom of a Bottle." Around fits of screaming and bursts of pissed-at-the-world guitar work (which invariably wavers between "verse" and "chorus" mode), we get some sense of alcohol and possibly girlfriend troubles. The bridge is soothing enough, but alas is the one sunny spot on an overcast day.

The prime cut of the album lies in the next three songs. The band members start off with "Silhouettes," a quasi-dirge that rumbles along with abounding discords and sparse drumming. Meanwhile, singer/songwriter Sean Danielsen showcases a voice quavering on the edge of spittle-flecked rage as he decries the lives of his parents. "Nowhere Kids," the second single, shows off the band's solid rock sensibilities and Danielsen's songwriting potential in one adrenaline-packed, four-minute chunk. Lines "Inside the cage that we've been given/I see an image of the future that we don't have" and "What did you expect/ A perfect child/Raised by T.V. sets/Abandoned every mile" demonstrate Danielsen's smart songwriting style, as he's crafted the perfect snapshot of our generation. "This is War" caps off the trio, a severe downshift from "'Nowhere Kids." Three beats into the song, the violins start, and from there Danielsen launches into an almost serenade about patriotism and lost identity.

Unfortunately, Smile Empty Soul may have done themselves in by arranging their debut as they did. The drop in quality over the next few tracks is particularly painful after as beautiful a song as "This is War." "Therapy" shifts back into the same gear as "Nowhere Kids" and "Bottom of a Bottle," but adds some needless screaming and just sounds whiny ("There's too much anger inside me/There's too much scarring when I bleed). "For You" and "Your Way" may as well be one song for their lyrical content (though the former contains some nice riffs). And while songs such as "The Other Side" address important issues like family abuse, they just aren't exciting enough musically or lyrically to warrant any special attention.

Which isn't to say the rest of the CD is excruciating. A hook here, a lyric there, an occasional entire song ("Every Sunday" comes to mind, if you can stand some screaming); all of these remind us that what we're listening to, while not an instant classic, is certainly listenable. In the end, Smile Empty Soul picked the perfect name: their music may seem empty in spots, but it sure as heck has soul. The smile part, well, that's up to you.

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Nick Falgout. Nick Falgout was bored one day and decided to change his Chips staff information. And now, for a touching song lyric: "I'm a reasonable man, get off my case Get off my case, get off my case." ~ Radiohead, "Packt Like Sardines in a Crushd … More »

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