Jody Smith has an interesting back story and makes some pretty impressive music, although one isn’t necessarily the result of another. After five years as an Army infantryman, Smith found himself in Atlanta, and when COVID lockdown forced him to stay at home shortly after this life transition, he decided to make an album all by himself. But the songs aren’t strictly autobiographical and aren’t really related to his former life in the military. I’m a happy dude,” he says in the album’s press materials. “I don’t think this album reflects who I am all the time, and it’s definitely not any kind of commentary on my experience in the military. Who wouldn’t be a little wound up this year?”
As far as being wound up goes, one can certainly detect a bit of catharsis in the execution of this bright, instantly lovable self-titled album. Black Nash, incidentally, is a name Smith has been using casually for home-recording projects throughout his time in the Army. Smith sings and plays everything on this album from his Atlanta home except for drums, which are courtesy of Jonny Lutz and Dereky Ramirez in Florida and Nashville. While the Beatles’ elegant melodies and the power-pop catchiness of Big Star are lodestars here, Smith loves tweaking these relatively traditional influences with odd lyrics and plenty of nihilistic guitar slashing.
Take the opening track and first single, “Alligator”. Beginning as a gentle, catchy, midtempo number with effects-tinged guitar chords, it starts as a quirky 1970s AM radio oddity, but the lyrics soon get weird. “Staring at the sun with a fist up her dress / Did you ever think that you had happiness?” The ensuing chorus includes plenty of chugging riffs. Eventually, the song unspools a gorgeous, lyrical guitar solo. Smith’s vocals occasionally drop into an almost self-deprecating deadpan. There’s so much to take in during the first two-and-a-half minutes of the album that you’re confident that the remaining nine songs can’t maintain this momentum. But they do.
Black Nash explores several different stylistic avenues but still manages to retain a high level of pop sensibility, even when slightly buried under idiosyncrasies and the occasional guitar freakouts. “Zodiac” struts along as a sort of fuzzy, post-punk gem that includes plenty of McCartney-esque hooks. And not to keep the Beatles comparisons going on for too long, but the elegant fingerpicking that opens “No Idea” sounds like a moment straight out of The White Album. Smith may have a DIY punk attitude, and this album harbors the claustrophobic air of bedroom pop. Still, his melodies and arrangements are far too sophisticated to describe this as a home recording thrown together during the lockdown.
Although the instrumentation is limited to guitar, bass, and drums, Smith offers up plenty of textures in his guitar playing to evoke a full band’s sound. Effects are used not in an overly experimental way, but they make the variety of guitar sounds richer and fuller. “Love Underwater”, another single released before the full album drop, is one of many high points, typically zigzagging between singsongy folk and Beck-like psych-rock. It opens with a killer couplet – “Love underwater is not what I thought it’d be / They took dolphins and force-fed them ecstasy” – and doesn’t let up. It’s followed by the compact funk-rock of “4 I.O.”, which contains inherent silliness that, as usual, doesn’t overshadow the inventive guitar figures, stuttering drum beats, and Smith’s unique but sincere delivery.
More highlights include the driving, riff-heavy “Minute of Rage”, the shapeshifting, almost baroque “Whiteout” (which sounds like Van Dyke Parks in a scruffy garage band), and the gentle balladry of “It’s You”, which closes the album on a relatively straightforward note. The album’s ten tracks are an immediate, potent hit of skewed, eclectic pop – the longest song is only a little over three minutes in length. But Jody Smith has so many tricks up his sleeve that he makes every second of those roughly 25 minutes count. The home lockdown situation may have hampered Smith’s ability to stretch out in a more conventional studio setup, but bedroom pop sure sounds good coming from Black Nash.