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Considering the well-deserved hype surrounding their 2011 debut, No One Gets Lost Anymore, it’s no surprise that The Smith Street Band’s follow-up, Sunshine & Technology, has been one of the most anticipated releases of 2012.
Sunshine & Technology comes across as an extension of its predecessor, somewhat acting as the soundtrack to Wil Wagner and his friends’ lives. Frontman and lyricist, Wagner, continues his intimate and honest approach to songwriting on this record, singing with total sincerity about everything from mortality to drugs, and noticeably, the concept of growing up. Despite the personal nature of Wagner’s storytelling – his lyrics reading like eloquent pages from a journal – the sentiments are always relatable.
Sunshine & Technology kicks off dynamically with its title track – a song that merges Wagner’s ever-present intensity with an upbeat melody, heavily driven by Chris Cowburn’s drumming. Vocally, Wagner almost sounds breathless in parts, his words spilling out with a sense of urgency. ‘I Can’t Feel My Face’ follows, the band backing Wagner with gang vocals scattered throughout, and wailing guitar as he achingly sings, "We get high because we’re scared of time."
Summed up with the repetition of "It’s all so fucking meaningless", ‘I Want Friends’ – Wagner’s discourse on consumerism and seeing his friends "melting into mortgages and low-interest bank loans" – is one of the record’s many standout moments. The song’s catchy melody helps to prevent self-righteousness in lyrics like, "Greed is glory and God is money" and "I know talk may be cheap, but living has always been free, and we are born with every single thing we could ever need".
Incorporating "whoa"s and "da da da"s alongside insightful lyrics is customary on a Smith Street Band record, exemplified in ‘Why I Can’t Draw’. The track maintains the light energy of ‘I Want Friends’, with Wagner announcing, "This is a summer song, and I want you all to sing along", before the joyfully simple chorus kicks in.
Following on from the slower, emotionally-charged ‘Stay Young’, ‘What’s Changed’ is yet another high point of the album, frequently switching tempo with calculated frenzy under Wagner’s desperate screams of, "What’s changed? What the fuck has changed?"
The Smith Street Band have always had a collective ability to build tension gradually, evident on several of Sunshine & Technology’s tracks. ‘Stay Young’, ‘Tom Busby’ and ‘When I Said Us I Meant Them’ are initially restrained, with the band mirroring Wagner’s steady increase in vocal passion. Similarly, ‘Young Drunk’ begins with acoustic guitar and a reserved Wagner on vocals, the pain in his voice obvious as he sings, "One day there will come a time when the person you were named after dies, and all of a sudden you’re the only one left." Wagner is joined by the rest of the band when the chorus hits, cathartically singing of drunkenly walking the streets where he grew up after a funeral.
‘Don’t Mention the War’, sombre and heavy-hearted, is an ideal album closer. Again, the emotion is steadily constructed, with Wagner building up to a scream as the instruments swell towards the song’s end.
While it’s easy to focus on Wagner as the driving force behind The Smith Street Band, Sunshine & Technology is more of a collaborative effort, giving the record a fuller sound overall. In the short time between No One Gets Lost Anymore and now, the band have clearly progressed; not only in terms of musicianship, but vocally, Wagner has developed a stronger, grittier tone. Whether you’re an objective or subjective listener, the accumulated life experiences of Wil Wagner and The Smith Street Band have resulted in a near-perfect record, further adding legitimacy to the buzz.
1. Sunshine & Technology
2. I Can’t Feel My Face
3. I Want Friends
4. Why I Can’t Draw
5. Stay Young
6. What’s Changed
7. Tom Busby
8. Young Drunk
9. When I Said Us I Meant Them
10. Don’t Mention The War