Rarely does album artwork so thoroughly complement the music of the album it’s adorning. Just take a second to take in this brilliant piece of album artwork—there’s a colourful, happy-looking party going all around. But Nickelas “Smokey” Johnson is staring straight ahead with a look of pure contempt. Or maybe it’s sadness?
Smokey & the Feeelings (yes, there are three “e’s”) is similarly contemptuous of anything happy, and it makes for some wonderfully dark images and melodies. Note the frequently manic-sounding strings; the gloomy guitar; a song that begins with the line “Better to sever your arms and your legs.” Johnson et al spare nothing. Not your feelings, not your comfort level.
I mean, right off the bat, “Build a Hole,” Johnson asks a nameless someone, “Will you build a hole for beings to go?” This beginning is backed by morose guitar and the aforementioned strings, but as this hole is described in more detail, the instrumentation gets way more intense, and before you know it the song has gotten fiery.
Johnson has a fine battalion of band members to add richness to each song. “The Worm” is a collection of so many moving parts that during a particularly loud part, you might not even notice Paul Arnusch’s whistling. “Chores” is a big folk-rock song, the guitar and accordion backing a song about unfulfilled lust.
In many places, the power of the Feeelings comes from Johnson’s unapologetic and blunt—but also poetic— language. In the song that begins with mentions of severing body parts (“New Country,”) the narrator says it’s better to keep yourself knocked down and un-free, rather than put in the work of standing tall and in control of yourself. It’s a dark bit of advice, and it’s far from the only lyrics that should make the listener uncomfortable. “Woman” is positively crackling with violent language, from mentions of a “cuff to the head” to snapping something off at the fulcrum.
Perhaps no song ends on a blunter note than “Mother,” in which Johnson sings, “Mother, oh mother, notwithstanding all your pearls, I hate this world.” Can’t get much clearer than that.
Smokey’s Feeelings are you feelings put to music.
Top Tracks: “Build a Hole”; “Woman”
Rating: Proud Hoot (Really Good) +*swoop*