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Pat Dam Smyth ‘The Great Divide’

Yes, Pat Dam Smyth is a singer-songwriter. But no, he is not simply another ‘pop-folk’ musician, strumming away at a mid-level pace on his acoustic guitar singing about his last girlfriend’s pretty face. “Paddy’s” low budget debut album ‘The Great Divide’ comes at the end of a year that saw some essential indie and pop releases (Arcade Fire, The National, Caribou etc.), but whereas they were all landmark LP’s by established artists, ‘The Great Divide’ marks one of the few essential releases by a new artist.

After the demise of his London based band Smoky Angle Shades Pat Dam Smyth returned home to Ireland to construct this solo album with a variety of unknown Irish musicians. ‘The Great Divide’ displays a real mixed bag of influences from The Beatles and The Kinks to Eels and The Flaming Lips. But the most obvious and complementary influences for Paddy on show here have got to be Grizzly Bear and Elliott Smith; the spirit of this debut is piano-led indie-pop with added layers of complexity and experimentation.

The album opens with ‘Candy’ (which has been made available as a free download), a mid paced folk song with naïve lyrics and simple drumming (reminiscent of early Flaming Lips) that picks up towards the end with some added strings. A great little opener, and though it demonstrates some of the running elements of ‘The Great Divide’ such as the change in tempo and strings, it is a far cry from the album’s best. The second song ‘Friends’ showcases Pat Dam Smyth’s overall sound much more effectively – an indie-rock song built upon a bouncing piano centre and large harmonious vocals. It is songs like this one, ‘Riches to Rags,’ ‘The Dark Knight of the Soul’ and ‘Yellow Line’ that make one recall Grizzly Bear’s last and greatest release ‘Veckatimest.’ Paddy calls upon the same strong pop sensibilities, same distinctive, off kilter percussion and layered instrumentation – it is indie music and its most progressive and satisfying.

Other tracks, such as the ‘The Great Divide,’ ‘The Ides of March’ and the stripped down ‘Hole in the Sky’ bring to mind Elliott Smith towards the end of his career. The ‘XO’-esque strings, horns and multi-layered vocal harmonies add warmth to the otherwise simple and dark, piano pop. ‘The Great Divide’ is perhaps the highlight of the album, slowing kicking off as a hazy and drunken bar moan before a waltz tempo, swirling strings and pained vocals storm in, with Paddy bleakly screeching ‘that’s why I’m going away from you.’

Despite the big, multi-tiered production sound to this album – the orchestration, the layered harmonies etc. – this is Pat Dam Smyth’s singer-songwriter album. He is the essence, and the triumphant rushes of strings, horns and guitars never overpower his engaging melodies, personal lyrics and piano tinkering. Listen to the subdued piano ballad ‘Set in Stone’ and you can imagine just how each song starts off life, just him and his piano, perhaps in the busking environment that he’s frequented throughout his career. One of the best singer-songwriter slash indie-rock releases of the year. And just in time for Christmas.

Originally published by AAA Music here

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~ by cliveparisrozario on December 13, 2010.

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