The music of Paul Smith, most often released under the name Reverbaphon, deeply honours his rich Scottish heritage. His humble roots in Dundee and Bristol, where music in all its many forms is consistently met with an inspiringly open mind, led directly to the acquisition of a drum machine, four-track recorder, and a child’s keyboard, sparking and kindling the dream of producing “unmusic” music. This desire for the unheard and possibly unlistenable fostered Smith’s development of a rudimentary instrument composed of a toilet roll tube, taut spring, and reed mouthpiece bong horn dubbed a “reverbaphone” (which, obviously, dubbed him back), but it didn’t end there.
Paul would go on to collect a toy drum kit and a £20 guitar. A brief occupancy in Singapore added a flute and biwa (an east asian lute) to his collection. At that point, his music was mostly improvisational, but the commendable dedication to his form revealed flickers of inspired beauty contrasted between organic composition and synthesizer, drum machine, and bedroom recording technology. His dives into the pools of ethereality were touching deeper and becoming more rewarding all the time. A new day by design was all but destined.
With that travel itch scratched, he resettled in Glasgow, refocused and reinvigorated, and his career began to pick up. His compositions, still improv based and occasionally random to the point of distraction, were getting richer and fuller. His early moments of promise were becoming realized before the listener’s ears. Eventually, his laptop work with the Dundee collective Trans Avant caught the attention of Edinburgh’s infamous Benbecula Records and the rest is underground history.
Sparse was the order of the day for the quietly released Reverbaphon debut The Medium Thru Which Sound Travels Is No Longer Present in 2003. It exists alone in a unique wrinkle in time where Robert Wyatt’s progressive country planted seeds with Four Tet folktronica on Daniel Lanois’ pastoral fields. Following it up the next year, Our Heart Beats With Joy (The Curved World Outside) saw those seeds nourished to fruition, garnering glowing praise from The Wire, tinymixtapes.com, and dozens of the like. Smith had taken his sound to the next level, maintaining the scratchy four-track vibe while expanding the lush, cinematic side of his electronic post-folk with accordion, banjo, saxophone, and melodica.
Portions of Our Hearts Beat With Joy (The Curved World Outside) received play on major BBC Radio shows like Breezeblock and the now defunct Rob da Bank and Chris Coco project Blue Room, while his touring schedule went into overdrive. Who knows when he had the time to learn all those instruments, but the proof is in the pudding. Two successive releases in Benbecula’s storied Minerals Series over the next two years developed his style even further.
Here Comes Everyone counts as his fifth long-player in as many years. As such, Reverbaphon is now the most prolific and consistent artist in the Benbecula stable. Any expectations of an aesthetic revolution against the established grain are quickly dispelled. However, remarkably, the continuing theme of his career has matured by leaps and bounds. Often, early tracks came off as fundamentally unsystematic with notable peaks few and far between, if at all. And even then, they seemed possibly accidental, like journeys desperately searching for a beginning and an end.
The opening “Broad Island” starts off on the right foot, softly with a cheap heart beat synth and light acoustic guitar pickings. It soon elevates to heavenly lysergic pads, introducing live drumming, teasing the electronic sounds to a Kieran Hebden sheen before shifting gears down to an outro, awash in skittering clicks, analog hum, and distorted hooting. “Sea Minor Grave” follows suit with a backwards country riff, bluesy melodica, random tabla, string touches, and the slightest hint of a big rave subbase near the halfway mark. The brief “Sferics” also benefits from a live drum backbone supporting alt. rock progressions and a consistent acid synth. Hell, the sheer oceanic bliss of the title track alone, with its warm bassline, humble guitar, Indian percussion, and homemade electronic sounds, is worth the price of admission. Just mind the signs “you will get wet, you might get soaked” before getting on the ride. This is your baptism.
On the whole, Here Comes Everyone places far less weight in the manipulated synthetic sound and caterwauling drum departments than we saw with 2006’s Get This And This And This And This And Here And, which laid its emphasis on electric guitar constructions. Granted, it doesn’t cover a whole lot of new ground, that’s apparently not his style, but there is a palpable sense of ripening to be heard as he blossoms into the artist he is fully capable of being.
I don’t think he’s exactly there yet, as the odd moments of cacophony that cause puzzlement still occasionally arise, but they are now inarguably in the severe minority and heading for extinction. However wishy-washy that sounds, I feel that Mr. Smith is on the verge of creating something utterly remarkable, something that cuts through hesitation to provide universal catharsis. He’s getting so close you can almost taste it. Fight for that last inch, Paul. Every man dies, but not every man really lives.
- Multiple songs Last.FM
// Notes from the Road
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