[4 October 2011]
PopMatters Associate Music Editor
You have to admire the Ottawa duo Sills & Smith for its promotional efforts; despite being essentially homespun musicians, Frank Smith and Jeremy Sills have built a strong web presence by promoting debut disc, Uncertain Vista, on a professional looking ReverbNation page, by posting the album to all the major digital distributors.
However, Uncertain Vista doesn’t have an awful lot going for it musically. For anyone willing to make the journey to find the album, it truly is a bit of a mixed bag. First of all, the album is 21 songs long and runs about an hour. While that might seem like the band is giving music lovers a great deal of bang for their buck, the material either meanders or is off the cuff and truncated, as though the musicians were just throwing ideas out there and basically loving everything that they’d written. Uncertain Vista‘s tracklist could have been easily lopped in half and be much stronger as a result, and some of the individual songs could have been more carefully honed and refined. Secondly, while Smith shares an uncanny vocal resemblance to the Pursuit of Happiness’ Moe Berg at times, his voice is reedy and weak Finally, many of the lyrics remind me of nonsensically bad rhyming poetry written by 15-year-old boys: “There’s a side road you can take / There’s a body in the lake / There’s an appointment to keep / But you know he’s a creep”.
That all said, Uncertain Vista isn’t horrible.There’s the glimmer of a catchy hook or a lovely melody here and there, and there are some nice, gentle, acoustic numbers sprinkled throughout. If this came on in a crowded bar, I wouldn’t feel the urge to quickly settle up my beer tab and leave. However, it’s certainly not the grand folk art that its makers seemed to believe they were creating. There are 1,000 bands that sound something like this; it’s just that 999 of them don’t have the verve or chutzpah to put it out there like this duo does. The bravery and self-promotion is to be admired, but the album resulting from their artistic struggles, alas, could use a bit of professional help.