Many artists change their sound throughout their career. This change can be adding more instruments to get a fuller backing to vocals, or, in the case of Vancouver’s singer-songwriter Christopher Smith, it can be a complete change of genre. Dralms is Christopher’s newest project, leaving his singer-songwriter music to enter into intimate, experimental rock, with Shaunn Thomas Watt on drums, Will Kendrick on keys, and Peter Carruthers on bass. It definitely works, as seen on his debut album Shook, released in October of 2015.
The journey begins with “Usage”, where the listener gets a strong feeling of what the album is going to be like. The synths are prominent, complimenting Christopher’s echoing vocals. The guitar and bass smolder in parts, building up to the close.
“Pillars & Pyre” is next, taking a more grooving side to the rock. With mellow verses , to a thundering chorus, the song is a dark look at the world, with the repeated line “This is hell for the weak ones. For the strong, this is heaven on Earth.” Throughout the song, the expert drumming by Shaunn keeps everything moving along, and starting it back up partway through when everyone stops.
Another drum-lead song, “Domino House” has a cool feature of the guitar by Christopher mirroring the vocal rhythm. This creates a cool depth to the melody of the chorus. There is also a more electronic feel with the guitar and bass distortion coming in and out in waves, contrasting well with the piano riffs. The female vocals in the background are also a great touch to the song.
“Divisions of Labour” has the echoing vocals back in full force, and has a sort of “off” sound about the whole song. The distortion of the guitar and vocals grow through the song, mirroring the lyric “There’s romance in the phrase, like a dissonant chord”, and reflects the anger in of the singer, calling people “fucking cock suckers…dumb mother fuckers” and repeating “Kill, kill, kill”.
The title track brings back the steady, jazz-inspired drums, giving an upbeat feel to the song. There is very little vocal effects and the band seems quite tame compared to the previous songs. The distortion comes back at the end, with the trailing guitar cutting in and out.
A heavier rock comes through in “My Heart is in the Right Place”, with steady lines from Christopher and Peter, on bass. Christopher’s voice feels other-worldly, coming through different filters, and the descending chords on the keys bring on a dark tone to the piece. With steady growth in volume in the middle of the song, the listener also feels the band getting closer, pictured even more by the removal of the vocal filters, making the voice clear by the end.
The smooth jazz feel comes in strong in “Objects of Affection” with awesome saxophone solos during the instrumental choruses. The subject of love is major in this song, with Chris confessing “I’m giving my all to you, all of my pride…we are the objects of each other’s affection”, but takes a weird turn when he says
“I’ll be your bitch girl, I love your squishy bits. I’m not talking shit girl, it’s the way that you love me and the way that you kiss that makes me want to submit”
The bass line of “Wholly Present” moves this slow jam along. It’s predominantly drums, bass and vocals, with small bursts of texture by Will on keyboards. The distorted guitar comes in about half way through, making the song dense and heavy. After a quick silence, the original sound of the first half comes back, with sizzling guitar and keys in the background.
“Gang of Pricks” has a lighter feel to it, with more snare drum in it, keeping the feel upbeat. This is a contrast to the argumentative lyrics Chris sings lightly, which are one side of a fight. The tenseness of the scene builds in the second half, and quickly diminishes to the final song.
“Crushed Pleats” is actually the song that got me into Dralms in 2014, when it was originally released. It pulls aspects from the other songs on Shook, putting each member in the spotlight. The lyrics are quite hopeful, talking about love and affection, while contrasted with heavy, hard-hitting drums, guitar and keys.
The album is a flawless debut by a collaboration of established musicians. There is a cohesiveness across each song, but enough variation to make each track distinct. Definitely a worthwhile listen and purchase. Dralms will be in Toronto on April 15, at the Drake Hotel.