Applauding Smog is a bit like sending chocolates to a funeral. Will Oldham is the kind of songwriter who will happily begin a song with a minute of him coughing, call it “Hangman’s Blues” and have it end an LP. Miserable bugger. It’s best to just stand attentively and drink. If you’re going to smoke, ensure that this is done with as much theatricality as possible and preferably use someone else’s fags. Smog is the sound of one man’s private grief made public: sometimes affecting, often affected, and occasionally a little too public; a little too naked, to be applauded. It can also be the scene of some inescapably brilliant songwriting.Mr ‘Glum’ Oldham shot to what can only be dubbed fame, in obscurist inkie-back-page terms, on the release of the bone-crunching ‘Kicking A Couple Around’ EP. “Your New Friend” began this four song elegy with a “Jealous Guy-With A Shotgun” vibe which peaked, in latent misogyny terms, with the witty and shrewd “I Break Horses”; one of the most honest, most male songs yet to be committed to tape. The cheerily titled “The Doctor Came At Dawn” LP followed this barrel of whisky-drenched laughs, and found Will expanding ‘Kicking’s...’ ‘one man and his guitar’ format to include drums and other such wayward musical stuff.

As one can expect with most emotionally retarded manic depressives, sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t. “You Moved In” and “Four Hearts In A Can” are the former, and “All Your Women Things” a distasteful version of the latter. Moments of lucid observation are upset by seconds of kiddish spite and often swamped by plain mediocrity. Be patient though. Songs like “I Break Horses” are few and far between.

Tonight’s gig at The Highbury Garage is about as typical a display of sheer grumpiness. Will won’t face the audience (he faces the wings) and says one word (“Thanks”) at the end. If his songs were squibbish anecdotes or dry observations then this could be cool. Seeing as he’s just that bit introverted, he sounds like he’d rather be in bed with two bottles of whisky and a copy of ‘Guns ‘N Ammo’. Ah, Bless!

“You Moved In” has our man in spectacular Norman Bates form as he utters the line “You moved in/ To my hotel/ You could have done better/ Oh well”. Lock your door and shower in the morning girls. “Red Apple Calls” follows in all its ‘been drinking all night’ morning glory, and “To Be Of Use” still sounds as pathetic as it did on tape. “All of my fantasies/ Are of making someone else come” he breathes. Best kept to yourself Will.

The gig’s most distressing moment comes, however, with the unprecedented slaughter of “I Break Horses”. We get drums, piano, and what’s worse, no intimacy at all. The Garage, at half a football pitch in size, is still too big a venue to house this kind of intensity. Smog are suited to the kind of place in which no-one can talk unnoticed. Tonight every ligger in town, including the veteran Sean Hughes, is ‘having a word’. So it’s little surprise that Smog’s pained sincerity is lost to the cavernous nature of both the venue and the audience’s craniums. Don’t let this put you off though. If you think “Talk Tonight” is profound, please fuck off and buy ‘Kicking...” from some obscurist record store tomorrow.

“Ex Con”, the single, is out next month.

Nick Paton Walsh


Music Index

Contact London Student