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Chris Smith - Bad Orchestra

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Artist: Chris Smith

Album: Bad Orchestra

Label: Death Valley

Review date: Sep. 13, 2007

Despite the proliferation of feedback blizzards and tumbleweed guitar leads spiked with field recordings of open-air environments and a woman cursing, this is Chris Smith's Pink Moon. Which is to say that it's a brief, pithy, full stop of an album, born out of bad circumstances and looking for something better. Smith is a former farm boy who moved to Melbourne, Australia, around 1993 to play rock and roll, and ended up bouncing from town to town making something far less straightforward. His music, documented on some excellent long players for Avalanche Express, Death Valley and Emperor Jones, has tended more toward open-ended, pedal-facilitated guitar atmospherics.

According to a recent interview in the magazine Cyclic Defrost, Smith has moved back to the farm after some unspecified personal complications. His sole post to his Myspace blog indicates that he's stopped making solo music, at least for now, and that he's happier that way. In light of this information, Bad Orchestra seems to represent both a summation and a shift. His instrumentals have shrunk; "Glue Factory," a mix of meandering piano, bird cries, and rainstorm rumbles, runs barely more than a minute. "The Orbit," a sublime sliver of shimmering reverb that follows the Xpressway out the far side of Yr Skull, lasts about 15 seconds longer. For that matter, the whole CD clocks in at just half an hour. It's as though Smith is running short of things to say, yet speaking more clearly than ever.

Ironically, the one time he steps up and sings is one of the record's blurriest moments. Backed for once by a full band that stumbles over the most basic riff like Crazy Horse with pebbles in their horseshoes, Smith snarls barely coherent bile through an overmatched amp. If you've been missing Gate's forays into bummer songcraft, this tune's for you. It also stands quite alone on the record, nearly alone in his mostly instrumental catalog.

Initially, this album's parsimony left me frustrated. I've always liked Smith's sprawling moments, and I wanted more. But after some concentrated listening, its economy seems right. After all, the blues didn't necessarily get any better when skinny boys started pinning lengthy solos on them.

Note: We waited to publish this review until the album showed up in America. We're happy to say you can finally find it at Aquarius Records.

By Bill Meyer

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