The UK / Japanese group Smile Down Upon Us are releasing their second album on Record Store Day (April 18). London-based instrumentalist Keiron Phelan and Tokyo-based singer moomLoo splash their music with vivid, bright colours and playful, child-like imagery. Eclectic in sound, the music’s a ray of sunshine, and it’s proud to show the world its true colours. It’s unashamed to be who it really is, and this only makes the music stronger.
Anime illustrations tell innocent stories as the music breezes around in the late spring day. It definitely has its tail up, and for the most part it’s feisty music. ‘One Feathered Shoal’ opens with a serene poem, and the sound of steady rainfall accompanies the words and thoroughly soaks the stanzas. The raindrops fall, and they hydrate the exotic, lush-green leaves. Peaceful birds chirp on the other side of the lake. The spoken word soon dissolves and a flurry of stuttering lyrics (revolving around the same poem, but phrased very differently) take over. The music is like a long lost prequel from Honey, I Shrunk The Kids; it drops the listener in a vast, vibrant world that overflows with supersized personality and limitless possibility. Colourful timbres are everywhere, and they’re ebullient and pure. The colours tower over everything, gleaming like a thousand lit shards. These crystals are bright and lucid, and although the tongue-in-cheek, playful lyrics are fun and bubbly, the subject can at times appear slightly darker. For instance, if you take away the thump of the drum and the softer melodies that cloak the music in light, you’ll have a very different philosophy and the casting of a very different mood.
Flautist and cellist Katie English (as Littlebow, English is Phelan’s partner in crime) and guitarist David Sheppard (State River Widening) are on hand to help paint the distinctive textures. Sometimes, the lyrics and the words are delivered in Japanese, while others are spoken in English, creating a cool juxtaposition within the music. ‘Butterfly Morning’ spreads its wings with a beautiful, plucked melody. The contrasting sound of the male and the female voice overlap with each other, dancing together in perfect harmony and in perfect stereo. Things take a sharp turn into the surreal with the next track. You know the worm that lives at the bottom of the tequila bottle? ‘Gusano’s Travels’ recounts the adventures of said worm, who goes on holiday and becomes too inebriated to build a treehouse. He also counts in Polish. It’s wonderfully zany.
‘Millwall’ is about a gang of girls who live in London and become unlikely football hooligans. “We are Millwall. No-one likes us…” pretty much hits the nail on the head. They definitely did their research. Whistles and chants ring out as the girls don their blue and white scarves and head off to south London. And with this track, they’ve definitely scored. And considering the subject matter, it’s quite a peaceful track. Seductive, but of a fierce character, the song reflects the duo’s album. Breezy and uplifting, Smile Down Upon Us is a change, and its positive attitude is a beautiful thing.