Pat Dam Smyth offers up more beautifully literate narratives on emotionally rich new EP.
Hailing from Northern Ireland Pat Dam Smyth announced himself to the world with his debut album, 2014’s The Great Divide. His beguiling mix of vulnerably expressive yet sophisticated storytelling and intelligent indie folk found critical success both in his native country and further afield. Smyth's distinctive vocals and well-drawn lyrics saw him compared to other highly literate solo artists such as John Grant, Father John Misty, Nick Cave, and Iron & Wine. Goodbye Berlin is his first new material since then and sees him return with five more emotionally engaging narratives that linger in the memory long after the final notes have flittered away.
“Juliette” opens with sharp blasts of distorted guitar as Smyth fires up the ignition before inviting the listener to buckle up beside him for a ride into his world. Driven by simple keyboard chords and a rolling bass rhythm, Smyth tells a tale of the titular character, Juliette, who is fleeing from her lover in a stolen car. Smyth cleverly builds the tension as the panic and anxiety felt by the protagonist is mirrored in the song until reaching its apex as guitar and saxophone break out in a psychedelic cold sweet.
“Goodbye Berlin” is a more rootsy, alternative folk song that shares the ear for melody and refined introspection of artists such as Damien Jurado and Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy. It finds Smyth hovering just above the bottom as he wrestles with the realization that he has to leave the past behind to ensure his future. As on all the material, it is told with such a well-defined sense of experience yet avoids melancholy, retaining its fragile optimism.
The poignant, acoustic strum of “Blue Lights” is a love letter to the eternal importance of music and how it shapes one’s character, opening with the line, “Punk rock, yeah / Saved my soul / Sure beats digging six feet holes / It was freedom / And it never goes away”. It continues as a seemingly troubling tale about leaving a canceled gig due to a bomb scare and seeing the blue lights of the police cars speeding past but quickly turns into an enduring song about the lasting impact of youthful experience, elevated by sweeping, shimmering guitar lines.
The enduring folk of “Judgement Day” has a timeless solidity to it coming from a man who bears the scars of experience but who knows better than to pick at them. “Emily” shares the keen storytelling instinct and rich narration of Father John Misty without the caustic cynicism. It’s a different take on celebrity as he views the day to day struggles of a woman visible from his window who also happens to be a popular actress. Again, it’s a more stripped-down, indie folk song with rumbling bass and chiming chords that creates a reflective rather than mournful mood. As if from nowhere strings sweep in, as if shaking you from a daydream, before falling away as Smyth tenderly ends with the line “Tears go running” repeated to the close.
Each song on Goodbye Berlinis a beautifully realized, rich tale with an intense sense of drama held together by Smyth's warm and evocative vocals. He adeptly moves beyond simple introspection as each song is replete with recognizable themes and characters. He writes songs with a distinct emotional draw that soon percolate into the heart and soul.