Review// HARPO SMITH debuts in style

Orlando Seale is reincarnated to take on consumerism, vanity and web culture.

Orlando Seale and The Swell is reborn as indie-pop outfit Harpo Smith

It has been a long, long time since we last heard the passionate throwing of Orlando Seale‘s voice. After more than a year of radio silence from Orlando Seale and The Swell, the outfit has returned with a vengeance and fresh branding. HARPO SMITH is that branding and the vengeance is sworn against the moral illnesses afflicting modern society — in particular, several shades of obsession. Ahead of a full-length album that is scheduled for the near future, the band has dropped a self-titled EP to set the scene and properly establish the new identity.

The first thing to note about HARPO SMITH is the distinction between the sound that the band produced as OS&TS. While both sounds capture an artistically apocalyptic slant on typical indie-pop, HARPO SMITH proves to be much more musically upbeat — despite many of the tracks on offer here beginning life under the old moniker. Opening number Superyacht best exemplifies this, as it provides cutting commentary on vanity and affluence to the tune of engulfing beats and an animated vocal delivery. It’s easy to see how the track could have taken a much more serious and preachy feel, but the outfit gracefully sidesteps that pitfall and instead packages social critique into a three-minute slice of absurd indie-pop.

This is very much a recurring theme throughout the EP. If there is one thing the band does exceptionally well, it is the presenting of commentary and criticism by way of silver-tongued character monologue. Another example of this would be final track Terrible Girl, in which Seale channels the persona of either an internet stalker/obsessive or a catfish pleading to be understood and appreciated. As the instrumentation builds to its climax with increasingly dramatic string lines, Seale begins to deliver a performance so impassioned and emotive that listeners instinctively buy his character. The conviction with which the band performs means that every track becomes audible art, feeling simultaneously abstract and indistinguishable from reality.

HARPO SMITH’s new musical direction allows this artistry to breathe easier than it could before. With the apocalyptic seriousness that accompanied OS&TS, it felt uncomfortable for the band to completely immerse itself into the characters that make this EP so worth listening to. Through the fun rhythms and tongue-in-cheek lyrical voices that seem to be HARPO SMITH’s signature, the music is given a new level of freedom and liberty. Retail, for example, appeared in Seale’s set at The Oslo to launch Wrestling and had a much darker tone to it than this version, which by contrast rumbles along on a contagious bassline and features a number of jagged musical drops that make it impossible not to enjoy.

Of course, this is all only a teaser and the real beauty of the new outfit will not be discovered until the full length album is released. Until then, HARPO SMITH has provided a valuable resource to become acquainted with what is, by any measures, a very different beast to what we’re used to from Seale. The trademark theatrics and music grandeur remain but are reapplied to something that delivers wider pop appeal without being any less impactful. In four tracks, HARPO SMITH proves itself one of 2017’s most promising acts.

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