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Sound Off!: SMARTS

SMARTS

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MP3: SMARTS – Caring

MP3: SMARTS – Jules et Jim

How do SMARTS put on such a fierce live act? I mean, the trio uses a grand total of three instruments for chrissakes. While Whartscape stands as firm testament to the fact that they’re scootin’ along just fine without any of those fancy-pants six string guitars, a part of me still yearns to discover how their bass/drums/vocals combo ends up sounding so damn big. Lucky for us, 2009 has come through with some surprisingly mid-fi recorded material of theirs for all to scrutinize over.

SMARTS (their self-titled and self-released EP), is so straightforward that by the end of the second song, “Fresh Air,” you begin to have an in-depth relationship with each of the instruments. In a way, you know them, their tendencies, their limits. The bass is basically bound to two settings throughout the EP’s bulk: good-humored family fun, and its punch-throwing distorted alterego. The accompanying percussion rides out post-punk style at a perky tempo, gracefully leaving space to breathe between fills without feeling minimal. The vocals are those of a dog-tired punk rock, one that’s played fourteen shows too many this week and is about ready to cave in on itself. With this exhaustion setting in, you might anticipate that SMARTS doesn’t have a whole lot left to say. And on that front, you’d be right.

Fortunately, Harold Hughes happens to sing with this ever-pungent diehard emotional momentum, meaning that even though he may be done with his verse, you’re not necessarily going to stop feeling the impact potential of his words. Opening like a lighthearted game of tag in the backyard, the bass on their leadoff, standout track (“Caring”) finds time to dillydally around with Alex Dondero’s chipper percussion. Then, at uniform speed, the dynamic duo opts out for some good ol’ fashioned low-end thrashing. As dandy as that may sound, you can go ahead and pin the song’s benevolent outcome on Hughes’s breathless expression, building exponentially upon a solitary verse to outstanding effect: ”healthcare, car care, i care, no. We don’t care, i don’t care. No.”

Despite what all this might lead you to believe, I would never under any circumstances call SMARTS a punk band. Now that I think about it, I wouldn’t readily label them pop, rock, or experimental either. Hardcore, actually, is the word I keep coming back to. It takes no stretch of the imagination to picture SMARTS as a bare-bones hardcore band, to such a degree that all you’re getting is the ideology, and a subset of the equipment required. Really, you might want to take the word “hard” out of the equation entirely. “Core.” That’s what these guys are, the tiny ball of superheated iron that belongs at the foundation of every music group.

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