Skyscraper Magazine » David Shane Smith
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Controls SM
David Shane Smith
Format: Digital
Release Date: January 1, 2011
By John Vogel July 18, 2011

I have a tendency to get really obsessive about albums I enjoy, and it’s one of the ways I identify music that truly resonates with me. These albums come along for me maybe about twice a year and are marked by a pretty steady stream on my iPod, or whatever personal listening device I’ve been reduced to at the time.

In the case of David Shane Smith’s Controls SM (a digital-only album that Smith has self-released), I was at the tape Walkman level, which isn’t the most convenient listening device for an album downloaded off the Internet, believe it or not. However, after listening to it on my computer at home (not connected to the Internet, the album having been downloaded at the library), I grabbed one of my few blanks tapes (yes, I still try to keep at least a couple fresh blank tapes around) and recorded directly from the computer into my tape deck so that I could listen to the album while walking to work and whatnot. On the other side, I put Air’s Premiers Symptomes (Source, 1997), a matter of being consistently obsessed with Air and keeping at least one of their albums on shuffle when I’m iPod-equipped. It was also a duration consideration; Controls SM is about an hour and Premiers Symptomes about a half-hour, and there you have a 90-minute tape.

I had already been previously geeking over an older album of Smith’s, Angry Earth (Cerebral Spasm, 2007) for a while, so there was some previous interest going in, just to give some context. Controls SM is ridiculously infectious, though, at least for those of us who are into weird music. Since listening I went back over his last two releases as well, Cloud Pleaser (Stroboscopic, 2009) and Perfect Forms (Stroboscopic, 2010), which provided pleasant links between their two bookend albums. The progression shows a slow shift from songs that seemed primarily written on guitar with drum machines and electronics texturing the sound to primarily synth/electronic music. Regarding the vocals, Smith’s style is a consistent mix of melodic/harmonic singing and rapping with strange, apocolyptic lyrics. The course of these four albums shows increasingly intricate and sweet harmonizing and general better use of both facets of his voice.

There are some hits here on Controls SM, though, for lack of a better term (and obviously not in the mainstream sense of the term). Popping out as public-friendly are “Global Warming Makes Me Hot (feat. Ice Truck)”, “Shampoo,” and “Benzene.” And then, for the people who aren’t scared to listen to the weird side of the moon but still on the easily listenable side, I would put “I Feel Alive”, “Blackbirds”, “Overfeeling,” and my personal favorite and current jam, “Traffic,” which was described by a friend as electronic James Taylor. (This can be taken negatively or positively depending on taste, though; for example, I absolutely hate James Taylor). The rest of the album starts to slip into more specialized territory where freaks like me relish and “normal” people might start to cringe, effecting a head space to encase the rest of the songs. All in all, the description of Controls SM by two other friends fits my opinion just fine, so why put it differently: “It’s TITS!”

I would just like to lightly touch on my link to Smith, for full disclosure and to acknowledge the fact that I was introduced to his music through personal avenues as opposed to media exposure or playing with him, which I think is relevant. Aside from a few friendly emails and being at the same places a couple times, I don’t know him personally very well or anything, but he is good friends with one of my old roommates, Nate Andrews, who makes music under the name August and now lives in Asheville, N.C. He is also currently doing a project called Noose. Although in L.A. now, Smith used to live in Philly, and after he had left but while Nate was still living here (being Philly, where I am, although you might not be while reading this) they made a file-transfer collaboration called Tall in the Smoke (Cerebral Spasm, 2008), which was another one of my obsessive albums and followed that up a bit later with the harsher Blood Karaoke. Around the same time as their first collaboration I recorded and musically contributed to one of the August albums, Beauty School. It was meant to be a beautiful take on Nate’s music, which isn’t usually the sort that the previously mentioned “normal” people go for, or can stand. You can just chalk it up there as yet another thing that I totally love which garners annoyance from most people. To give you an example of what his stuff sounds like in general, however, once I put his album Made Ov Skyscrapers (Cerebral Spasm, 2008) on my iPod shuffle as well as She by Maldoror (Ipecac, 1999), which is a noise project between Mike Patton and Merzbow, and proceeded to play the game “Maldoror or August?”

Of course these David Smith and August albums have never been widely released, so I offer them here by making each title in this article a link to either a Bandcamp page where the album is available on a Pay-What-You-Want basis or a Mediafire free download, with permission from the artists of course.

Visit: David Shane Smith
Purchase: Insound | eMusic