Album Review: Rowan Smith unveils songs ‘in the key of kintsugi’ – an assemblage of exquisite sonic treasures framed in gold.

The Breakdown

'in the key of kintsugi' is a beautiful album, filled with nuance and delicacy: fragments of shimmering music written over the years but bound together by gentle observant poetry and melodies that shine like veins of gold.
Independent 9.0

Rowan Smith is songwriter and founding member of Melbourne bands Macguffins and Barefoot as well as writing a series of solo albums. The MacGuffins played between 1988 and 1992 before recently reforming and have links to the Underground Lovers with Philippa Nihill a member. Smith has just released a solo album entitled ‘in the key of kintsugi’ which collates over thirty years of songwriting into a gentle and immersive collection of jewels that collectively sparkle and shimmer in the firmament.

Kintsugi, also known as kintsukuroi, is the Japanese art of repairing broken pottery by mending the areas of breakage with urushi lacquer dusted or mixed with powdered gold, silver, or platinum. It’s often used as a metaphor for grief – symbolising the way that grief strips us to our barest selves and then asks us to rebuild. It is also a celebration of and highlighting of flaws in what once was a perfect vessel . Smith has perhaps taken this exquisite and delicate concept as an apt reference to music and it becomes a perfect reference point for the album as a whole.

Smith says of the album:

The eleven-track record includes: four brand new songs (and the first single available to hear now, Slow Clouds); a couple of Macguffins classics including an acoustic version of the hit single, Rich Together; a popular live standard (through the Barefoot years as well but somehow never released); and lastly, where I’ve had unfinished business with them, five more songs from my first two solo albums, re-mixed and/or remastered, and a new rendition of a song that featured across the setlists of both bands.

There is a binding genetic thread in the music that goes back to the Postcard Records/Sarah Records/C86 era and of course the antipodean Brisbane and Dunedin sounds in the tracks: melodic, poetic vignettes of life expressed with jangling guitars and dappling keys that carry an expressive vernacular. These sonic pieces are held together by Smith’s vivid and evocative lyrics.

Opening track ‘Slow Clouds’ has echoes of The Smiths with its euphoric Marresque guitar jangle and Smith’s vocals channelling a little Morrissey with the emotional delivery. The song positively shines with a high stepping trot and effervescence, touched with a little melancholy amongst the sparkle.

The title track coasts over a driving piano riff with Smith’s easy vocals delivering a wry look at the contrast between order and chaos. The melody is achingly beautiful and the lyrics seemingly about the ability of random music to heal and repair – the beauty of chaos:

you clutch this hugging pain
makes the everyday seem strange
perfectionism erases you
feel the weight and break
fly away
under my headphones on random

‘Busy Brain Triage’ has an almost hushed country tone with a touch of Lennon as it travels above a hammond organ bed and Smith’s wry, reflective lyrics – don’t let the whole world get you down – just some of it. There is a delicate positivism with a touch of humor and fatalism.

‘Rich Together’ has a tender poignancy with a raw reflective observations on the minutiae of life with gentle instrumentation that wanders across the sonic landscape, accompanied by plucking guitars and an ambulant piano. The delivery recalls The Go-Betweens and Paul Kelly with its descriptive deadpan delivery – a tone continued in ‘Emotional Week’ with its shimmering guitars and soft delivery.

A thread of emotion weaves its way through the the album: ‘You Teach Me’ has a high stepping pace with a Beatlesque melody and harmonies with its innocent declaration of devotion and the transformational power of love, which could be directed at a child. There is a delicacy in the instrumentation – a distant fairground organ at the edges. A gentle acoustic base supports the gentle delivery of ‘Words Are Swords’ which becomes anthemic and majestic. ‘Your Gift’ has echoes of ‘Heroes’ era Bowie in Smith’s delivery and is a beautiful observation on our legacy in life:

what you have within to give
is what lives on after you’re gone

The instrumentation again dapples and flows with a wandering bass and a subtle delicacy that highlights Smith’s yearning delivery. Romanticism – whether it be for a person or a time – continues to wind its way through the songs – ‘Love Wins’ reveals an anxiety about what might happen to a steady relationship – love wins when I’m ready to lose. This themes continues in ‘My Movie Of You’ – a sweet devotional song about the indelible effect of love, this time delivered on a robust instrumentation that reflects a certain frail and beautiful positivity.

Final track ‘The Rain’ is a gentle exit – an instrumental that consists of a reflective piano that leads you gently back to the real world, transformed and satisfied.

‘in the key of kintsugi’ is a beautiful album, filled with nuance and delicacy: fragments of shimmering music written over the years but bound together by gentle observant poetry and melodies that shine like veins of gold.

Out now, you can download and stream via all the usual channels and through the link below:

Another prime example of The Marrickville Sound, this time based in Hobart.

Previous Live Gallery & Review: Bring Me The Horizon in Sydney 12.04.2024
Next Live Review + Galleries: Bluesfest Byron Bay - Day 3, Saturday 30.03.2024

No Comment

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.