A Darkened Light


Pat Dam Smyth: The Last King (Quiet Arch Records/Rough Trade)

Pat Dam Smyth couldn't be described as a man who hurries his muse along. Seven years have passed since the release of The Great Divide his perfectly structured debut album, so The Last King has an unfettered air and an inherent conciseness infused with flashes of darkened insights, painfully honest revelations and a playful kind of gloom. It is an album that resembles a broken diary, confessional, introspective and candidly revealing, but one that builds and captures the attention of the listener, to return, again and again to for fresh solace and rewards. It also has an assuredness of touch and tone that distances it from the crowd. Belfast born, but London based this Mr Smyth is the embodiment of a troubadour at large. His back story reads like a musician's version of Kerouac's On The Road. From a sojourn in Paris, to a breakdown in Berlin, and hanging out with comedians in Hollywood, this rolling stone has gathered and dispensed with some interesting variations of moss. 

The album opens with "Kids" a Pink Floyd-ian dirge that references The Troubles, and their backdrop aspect to a childhood in Belfast that sets the controls to the hurt in this son. "I miss the sound of Chinooks/ in stormy weather/ Soundtrack to my youth/ That's all you'd ever hear," A powerful introduction that grows from a gloom of synths into a dark and melodic statement of remembrance and admission. This perfectly sets the tone for "Catch A Fish" where he confesses "I never understood the virtue/ Of the happiness I kept inside / with every dream and wish I ever had/ I watched myself die." There is a haunting honesty at play with his self-revealing that never slips into self-indulgence. With the title cut "The Last King" a menacing nursery rhyme with the quality of a bewitching melody of catchy poppiness reminiscent of early Prefab Sprout the album hits a confidence of stride. He deals lightly but powerfully with his breakdown in that city via "Goodbye Berlin" -- "And everyman's got pain you know/ The trick is to let it go/ I've got mine but it's not yours to see/ Only when you get to know me" is curiously prosaic and uplifting in manner which sublimates well with the Gothic country touches that annotate it. He follows through with 'Doesn't Matter Now' a confessional lament with certain lilting qualities that suggest Chris Isaak, albeit a rather gravel-laced version drowning in an eloquence of strings.

"Another World" features the exquisite tones on Ren Harvieu on backing vocals. "We'll go walking in the city/ That never used to sleep/ And to listen to the silence/ Of the great and unwashed souls," suggesting "Ghost Riders In The Sky" on heavy downers. A Nick Cave-like tone and phrasing imbues "Juliette" via its uplifting swagger and surefire hook of a refrain that builds and grows till it gracefully burns low. With "Dancing" one is presented with a perfectly paced, country infused lament that slithers and twitches like the final throes of a dying snake, whilst "Teenage Love" is burdened by the kind of regret that the title infers, "And now I suffer in silence/ I'll take those words you never said/ To the grave." It blossoms to become a sinister mini epic based upon a swagger of growling guitar all power chords in dark attire. 'Where The Light Goes' holds elements of Bill Fay in its implicit but almost casually dour folkiness, a throwaway lament that hammers sorrow home with an optimism at odds to the sentiments it is laying bare.

"After summer I could /Barely look you in the eye/ 'Cause what do you say when/ Somebody's lover has gone forever?" 

A perfect signing off to an album of subdued elegance and power. It can only be hoped that there won't be another gestation period of seven summers before we are gifted with further gems. Albums like this arrive all too rarely, are meant to be savoured, shared and valued, but primarily to be celebrated. It is easy to see what attracted Bad Seed Jim Sclavunos to this project. Integrity is a quality that's nigh impossible to manufacture. Bathe and savour in the darkening light of an honest and rewarding piece of work. In many ways it seems an album perfumed and informed by the powerful strains of exile.

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