Album Review | J Smith & (…) And you chose not to laugh

After fourteen years and the release of two albums, Gypsies On The Autobahn called it quits. Not one to rest on his laurels, James Smith busied himself with multiple remix projects under his Yurn moniker and made some guest appearances on albums by Zaska and brother Kojaque. Then, in August 2019, he took to Ben Rawlins’ former studio alongside his brother and old bandmate Daniel, as well touring buddies Dylan Lynch and Donagh Seaver O’Leary (Little Green Cars, Soda Blonde), and recorded half a dozen rough tracks in a single day.

Taking the songs home, Smith embellished them with string arrangements, synths, guitar, vocal overdubs and percussion, before bringing Rawlins back to produce (…) And you chose not to laugh. The inclusion of some twenty-odd players, the issue of budget constraints (the cost was eventually split with Kojaque), and the fact that the album was inspired in part by the grief Smith shared with his wife over the miscarriage of their first child, made the process a painstaking one.

But from tragedy comes great beauty and joy. J Smith and his wife are expecting a child in July, and the album, shaped by the grief of the loss of his first, is markedly delicate—lyrically and sonically. Amidst the bustling, simmering layers on ‘In the Death of Something Beautiful’, it’s impossible to remain detached from the turbulence of emotion as Smith ponders whether it was all for the best:

“Now I don’t know if I’m escaping / Or a child is being rescued / Cause I’m carrying my demons / And I swore they’d raise her too”

What undoubtedly has been worthwhile is the time spent on the album. The arrangement throughout is impeccable. ‘Blood Orange’ is built around a deftly arpeggiated guitar progression with swells of mournful guitar, keys, and backing vocals brought forth at all the right moments, with a bustling drumbeat entering the fray not a second too soon.

‘Rain’, meanwhile, builds slowly, with gorgeous piano flourishes leading the backing instruments to fade away to a yearning string motif. ‘Good Women’, while stark in its arrangement, boasts a meandering trumpet solo and ‘Sunday’ is a boozy, bluesy piano ballad that allows J Smith to showcase the extent of what his distinctive voice can do.

Soft in all except its focus, the delicacy of the sonic colours on (…) And you chose not to laugh is perhaps the easiest way that its unflinchingly honest lyrics could have been digested. It is on starker moments like ‘The Car’, padded out only with minimal percussion, handclaps, and spiralling guitar leads, that Smith delivers his heaviest verbal blows:

“I’m driving off in the car we bought / You said it was needed for the child that we lost”

It’s far too clever a device not to have been intentional. On (…) And you chose not to laugh, J Smith draws the listener in with warmth and pleasant sounds before unexpectedly striking with profundity. At ten tracks across thirty-eight minutes, it never overstays its welcome either, revealing just enough depth in just the time it takes to get and hold your attention.



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