Chicago pop lovers make one of the most memorable piano-driven rock albums in recent memory while smiling from ear to ear.
When you decide to call your band “This Is Me Smiling” you run the risk of doing one of two things. One, you are going to make immensely happy pop music that not even the biggest 1990’s-era Hanson fan would want to listen to. Or two, you are begging for attention by going by a name soaked in irony and pretense while writing songs that show the disgust you have for people doing exactly what it is you are falling into by calling yourself such a thing.
It’s no surprise that the latter is what This Is Me Smiling’s self-titled debut effort succumbs to. But that’s OK. The difference between them the other 5,262,940 bands doing it, is that This Is Me Smiling make it interesting again. Their catchy, quirky pop numbers layered with witty one-liners and impossible harmonies quickly force you into believing that they really are your favorite new band. Even for more than a couple of weeks.
The dominant sound of a piano combined with a voice that promises the man behind it is wearing thick-framed glasses suggest that This Is Me Smiling would sound a whole lot like Ben Folds Five would today had they never subtracted the five. It’s aggressive enough to keep your attention, but whiny enough to make you remember what got you interested in the first place.
And though the comparisons with the former trio run rampant throughout the entire album, This Is Me Smiling maintains its independence by taking that sound and sprinkling it with a rough edge. More than half of the record is up-tempo and emo enough to draw elements from their good friends in Motion City Soundtrack and fellow Chi Town rockers Spitalfield. Think Whatever and Ever Amen with a little less mellow, an awful lot more rock and a dab of anything the Get Up Kids have ever recorded.
Take for example, “Goodbye to Each New Day”. Though the song begins with nothing but a delicate guitar and the quiet vocal "the car ride over was better than the date", the track certainly doesn’t end where it began. Once lead singer Dan Duszynski pulls back by claiming that he “can’t seem to forget that night” and the click-clack of the rapid-fire rim shots drummer Adam Kaltenhauser forces upon the delicacy kicks in, there is no looking back. The song is four minutes of some of the most aggressive piano-driven pop rock in recent memory.
Then, when This Is Me Smiling finally get to channel their inner Get Up Kids, they do it best with “So Excited to Sleep". This tune sounds like one of the songs left off of the Get Up Kids' last studio album Guilt Show. The driving feel of the verses combined with the stutter stop quirky-like qualities of the chorus and all parts in between make this track one of many that could easily be used as a single. And, remember, all of this is done under a voice that often gets mistaken for Ben Folds’ twin brother.
Other high points of the album come whenever they sparsely use guest female vocals. While Jenni Choi adds color to the acoustic “Matter to Matter", the female vocals on “A Better Way to Fall in Love” are placed so perfectly that the band will have to deem it imperative to add a fifth member by album number two.
And then there is This Is Me Smiling's secret weapon, Fall Out Boy’s best friend Sean O’Keefe. It goes without saying that his production help ensures the album be polished like silverware. But it’s his impeccable pop sensibility that shines like a big, happy afternoon filled with sunshine on This Is Me Smiling. “Feelin’ the Time Pass By” and “Prettier” prove to be O’Keefe’s mark left on the recording. Though the pop is already there, O’Keefe adds his signature repetitiveness and dance-tastic grooves that made Fall Out Boy your little sister’s favorite band to This Is Me Smiling. And all of that only makes a good thing better.
When the members of This Is Me Smiling wrote the songs that appear on this record, they were all either 19 or 20 years old. In a recent interview with Spin, the band claimed they made a record that “was better than what we were at the time". That might be true. But if that means that the next time around may be better than this, pop radio better get ready. They might be smiling for a long time to come.