Benjamin Francis Leftwich ‘Last Smoke Before the Snowstorm’ – Review

14 Jul

Acoustic singer songwriters of the pop variety (rather than the folk variety) get slated all the time, but this just shows how hard the style is to pull off, and the few that have had success with it are some of the most acclaimed musicians of all time. A select few artists have won fans and critics over in recent years – Bon Iver of course, with his album ‘For Emma Forever Ago’, and last year Bombay Bicycle Club made an acoustic record that was more successful commercially and critically than their electric debut. Benjamin Francis Leftwich is leading this year’s assault, alongside the likes of Ed Sheeran with his insanely addictive ‘A Team’ single, Ben Foster, and a born again Charlie Simpson of Busted and Fightstar fame.

On his album ‘Last Smoke Before the Snow storm’, Leftwich has struck an unusual balance between raw sincerity and pop production; this isn’t as polished as a James Blunt or James Morrison album but it isn’t as bruised as the Bon Iver or Bombay Bicycle Club albums I was talking about earlier. His sound is simple yet stylised, his melodies are poppy and infectious, his voice is smooth yet passionate; overall his talents are impressive. However Leftwich hasn’t managed to make the sound his own – far from it in fact. ‘Last Smoke Before the Snow storm’ is a unfortunately insubstantial collection of weak songs that fails to leave a big impression on the listener.

It begins with ‘Pictures’ a meandering, middle of the road slowie that sets the tone and mood for the entire album. Track three could be track one, so could track six or eight – any of them could be, they all sound the same. Because of this the album is a murky swamp of quiet noise; no highlights but no particular lowlights either, just nice, drab acoustic confessionals. Except Leftwich isn’t really that confessional (the ones saving grace of many other drab singer songwriters), his lyrics are just as sedate and uninspiring as the music. I could give you countless examples, from the vague observations of ‘Box of Stones’ to the lovelorn metaphors that haunt most of these songs. A few tunes at least kept me awake – ‘Atlas Hands’ is the best thing on here because the lyrics actually made me pay attention, and the two singles are suitably catchy compared to the other songs. The title track even has a lovely string arrangement which is about as exotic as this album gets, but hey ho, not everyone can be a dubstep pioneer or a chillwave glo-fi punk pop mosher.

‘Last Smoke Before the Snow Storm’ has no hooks, no substance, no clever arrangements, no killer melodies, and no songs to get excited about. I’m not immune to singer songwriters – In fact like the genre more than is probably healthy or cool. However, Leftwich doesn’t do anything to make his album slightly interesting. The best thing about it is his voice which is nice but not strong enough to carry the record on its own. I don’t hate ‘Last Smoke…’ I wouldn’t even say I dislike it – how could you dislike something so perfectly inoffensive and pleasant? – it’s just incredibly lazy, incredibly uninteresting and at the end of the day I just don’t care about it.



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