Perhaps there truly is something to that secretive little scientific thing we call ‘chemistry.’ Of course, I am referring to the magical elements of two potential lovers on a wonderful first date, a group of spirited common-thinkers, or the winner of season 37’s Dancing with the Stars. This is the kind of chemistry that makes a good band a great one, a good recording session into a productive one, and a flash-in-the-pan group a long lasting presence in their respective area of music.
Wetwood Smokes protrudes chemistry through every little sprinkling orifice of their goofy little pop collective. The group is a trio. First up is Josh Bowman on vocals and guitar, followed up by Chrystian Cano on bass, and rounded out by Steven Howard on drums. But their credits go a little deeper, which shows an encouraging lack of a distinct frontman and a very free-spirited rotation across all very aspects of playing and recording (for example, all members are credited on piano).
This is clearly an accomplished trio of musicians, and their expertise in all area of music playing as well as their innate knack for a wonderfully endearing pop hook suggests that they are more accomplished ghostwriters than musicians in their own merit- and that is a shame.
Wetwood Smokes have a full-length album to their credit, appropriately titled Earth Tones & Red. It sets an aesthetic quality that is fitting for their upbeat folksy sound, recalling a little bit of Fleet Foxes with a much stronger emphasis on pop charm ala Nada Surf or the Decemberists. There is even a little bit of those beautiful flowery arrangements that Beach House has so cleverly leaned into in the back half of their career.
I guess it is easy to dismiss a band that relies so heavily on pop soundscapes, especially when they seem to take it so serious. But writing a great hook is not easy, and Earth Tones & Red is drowning in them. “Madeline” has this enchanting drumwork and this accenting synth part that is gorgeous. “A Better Man” trumps along like something from the Strokes or Fruit Bats, and it just works on every single level.
Wetwood Smokes have a carefully crafted image, from the title of their record suggesting wholesome earthy flourishes to their marketing material that suggests hipster imagery in a random Georgian woods. Taking the band name into account, it can be a bit much. But the saving grace, effectively enough, is the musicianship. The band records so tightly together and with such astonishingly crisp chemistry, that they make something so seemingly simple and quant totally and absolutely endearing.
This is pretty standard folk/pop fervor, yet somehow it seems like more. Less accomplished musicians without a knack for that songwriting would be lost in the shuffle of innovation. Wetwood Smokes seem like, against all competition, they have earned their fit.
Ryan Merkel is a cool writer guy and contributor all over the internet, from blogs on music to magazines about music to sites about playing music. He is currently founder of SunState Investing and is head editor of the music entertainment magazine, CultureTease. He has written two novels, and is currently working on a third full-length novel, surprisingly, not about music. His novel “Splatter the Noise” earned accolades for independent publishing. Be sure to check out: www.sunstateinvesting.com
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