Vancouver based Plain Mister Smith showcases his strikingly unique, spotlessly produced Indie-pop-come-folk sound on his debut album ‘I’m Plain Mister Smith’. Musically complex and yet refreshingly light and simplistic on the surface, the brainchild of Mark Jowett manages to create soundscapes full of intrigue, managing to posses both an uplifting brightness and a reflective, personal melancholy.
Setting the scene for the whimsy, sometimes sci-fi tinted lyricism and instrumental complexity that can be found across the album’s 9 tracks, the opener ‘Strange Strangers’ introduces the mix of synths, strings, acoustic guitar and soft, breathy falsetto vocal delivery of Jordan Klassen. Dark and haunting, with a chord sequence reminiscent of Radiohead’s ‘Subterranean Homesick Alien’, the album’s start is one the albums darker moments but still instantly showcases Plain Mister Smith’s unique airy soundscapes. As the track reaches it’s climax, Klassen utters the words “Just follow me, I’ll take you where you love to go”… a warming invitation into Plain Mister Smith’s sonic world.
Flowing into previously released single, the uplifting ‘Flawed Diamonds’, Klassen’s gentle vocals return over light, etherial backing of strummed acoustic guitars, airy synths and subtle brass. Joined by the bright vocals of Jocelyn Price, the pairs voices dance over the soft backing, intertwining fluid harmonies while the lyrics take a satirical, humorous look at affection, attraction and love.
Elsewhere on the album, ‘The Rat’ brings a rockier edge with a jerky, tight chord sequence with jangly electric guitars akin to the like of Mew. Progressing through it’s intense, jagged textures the track breaks out into a synth solo, pulling the track towards the realms of prog and truly demonstrating how musically creative and free this album is: Jowett manages to always capture an overarching sound but can introduce varying instrumental styles effortlessly and without losing his flow.
The album’s interlude, ‘Chameleon Sprite’, shows yet another side to Plain Mister Smiths sound, building his picky indie-folk attributes from a full band sound through to a atmospheric electronic breakdown over the course of the 3:54.
A highlight, ‘Airport Lounge From Hell’ shows Plain Mister Smith at his most potent. Complex, ever moving instrumentation under Jordan Klassen’s delicate vocal, a mixture of sounds that captures such a sense of melancholy whilst still sounding summery and uplifting all at once. This overwhelming sonic experience is made all the more rewarding as your retune your ears to focus on the sharp and witty lyricism as Klassen describes a journey through customs and duty free.
Closing with the moody ‘Space Bends Time’, built around a pulsing Jai Paul-esque beat as Klassen and Price once again share the vocal duties, harmonising to great effect in the tracks entrancing chorus.
An album packed with innovative musicality: interesting blends of instrumentation, emotional depth and beautiful melodies, ‘I’m Just Plain Mister Smith’ is an exceptional selection of tracks with strikingly unique vocal lines and lyricism. Despite his instantly recognisable sound, it’s hard to pin down an exact genre for Plain Mister Smith and this is to his strength. Jowett is not boxed in, you can hear from track to track that he is absolutely full of ideas. Some great vocal work from Jordan Klassen and Jocelyn Price enhance Jowett’s instrumental work which often follows the instrumentation tightly gives the tracks direction, pinning the varying instrumentals to a central point and giving the overall sound commercial appeal.
‘I’m Just Plain Mister Smith’ is well balanced: full of whimsical splender that manage to avoid self-indulgent by always pulling itself back down to earth with satirical lyricism, and despite the breathtaking musicality on display, a sense that it doesn’t take itself too seriously. While I feel that Plain Mister Smith has more deliver, could really push himself and make something that is truly pure genius (due the vast array of musical ability on display here), this is a great collection of tracks that isn’t far off doing just that.
A brilliant debut, ‘I’m Just Plain Mister Smith’ is a work of art in itself whilst showing a huge amount of potential for the future.