If Tom Waits decided to front an alt-rock band, they’d probably sound like The Smile Case. Their mix of grungy guitars, catchy pop melodies and lead singer Ben Andress’ unconventionally gruff voice takes time to get used to but ultimately pays off. The Smile Case describes Angel Beach as “the perfect summer breakup album”. The raw and bittersweet lyrics do an excellent job of portraying the emotional roller coaster associated with a romantic failure but there is little about this album that reminds me of summer. There’s simply too much darkness throughout its twelve songs, a darkness that manifests itself most effectively in the album’s vocals.
For some Ben Andress’ sloppy singing voice might be too abrasive to tolerate. Personally, it took some getting used to but it eventually revealed itself as the album’s most important element. Throughout Angel Beach he creates beauty in the chaos of heartbreak and portrays a man completely unhinged by grief. The music’s calm moments leave him slurring and warbling like a drunken and grief-stricken mess, its crescendos make him howl like a madman.
Thankfully the music that accompanies Ben’s voice has a comfortingly familiar sound. Rooted in 90s alternative rock, there is lots of distortion and a meticulously crafted “sloppy” sound throughout the album’s guitar playing. Cleverly infused with a sense of melody and pop sensibility any of the instrumental tracks on Angel Beach could have served as the backdrop for a 90s radio hit. Solidifying the sensation of a trip back in time, the album’s fourth song, “Glen Meyer”, features a high pitched vocal contribution from Brendan B Brown of Wheatus who is most famous for their classic hit “Teenage Dirtbag”. He sings harmony parts and is barely recognizable here, though.
The song which best fuses The Smile Case’s two opposing forces, pop sensibility and passion, is “ I Wear a Curse”. Starting with a haunting, fast-paced guitar riff and an almost spoken, whispered vocal delivery the song eventually explodes into chaos and devolves into repeated screams drenched in distortion. If I had sequenced the album this would’ve been the closer, there would’ve been something haunting about its sudden and noisy end. That being said the following song “Sorry To Myself” is one of my favourites. Its simple and self-loathing lyrics laugh in the face of all the breakup songs that try to find a positive lesson in the experience or blame and berate their former romantic partner. The blame rests solely on the narrator and its a refreshing take on a classic lyrical theme. The song’s vaguely 50s rock ballad feel, with a demented amount of distortion, hints at a romantic tone while skewing it in a deliberately tragic way.
As a whole Angel Beach accomplishes what it set out to, capture the chaos and pain of heartbreak and wrap it up in a relatively melodic and classic alt-rock package. I would definitely suggest anyone going through a breakup to listen to this record at a high volume and howl along until you feel better.
Written by Brian Clarke