By the time Wil Wagner screams ”Don’t fuck with our dreams!’ at the top of his lungs on the closing moments of the ferocious opening title track, any detachment you might have had with the sentiments he and the rest of The Smith Street Band write music about will likely dissolve into the Australian summer air. It’s an entirely relatable notion after all, especially for the trampled generation he defends, made all the more poignant by the deft juxtapoisition of defiant pump-your-fist punk rock and wallowing self-deprecating punk balladry — not to mention Wagner’s natural ability to draw empathy with his straining vocal chords and endless list of lyrics that shouldn’t work but do.
It’s really that capacity to translate the difficulties of real life into words and songs — without losing any of the honesty — which makes Wagner such a fascinating frontman. He blurs the lines between those small personal battles everyone faces – love, loss, hope – with the kind of conclusions you draw from thinking too much at 3am, like the universe, what we’re doing here and whether or not we’re totally fucked. In fact, Wagner might be the only man who can make me feel like both a worthless pot-smoking thief and a misunderstood romantic in the same song. Perhaps the best example of this is on Kids — with Wagner singing a resigned chorus of ‘we’re just kids staring at the sun, and we don’t mean nothing to no one’ whilst the energetic guitars, enthusiastic bass and bombastic drums raise their metaphorical flags in the background.
Following Kids is arguably the best song The Smith Street Band have ever written, Self Control, a shivering scrapbook of broken hearts, self-doubt and historical life lessons, held together by tingling guitars and solemn bass and horns and snares. ‘I looked death in the eye once a week, for a couple of years, come on teach me self control’ Wagner sighs, which as tear-jerking as it is, isn’t the only poetic gem on here — ‘cos I’m killing my relationships, but I try to keep a lid on it, I want to dive in happiness, I want to be in love again’, or the gloriously depressing ‘I don’t think I could make anyone feel this shit’. We saw this same level of emotional leverage from Wagner earlier in the year with the heart-wrenching Laika, but whilst that retained some distance, Self Control is stiflingly real — and that suffocating veracity is why The Smith Street Band are so appreciated by those who invest in them.
There’s a delightful nuance on Self Control too, with Wagner slightly delaying his croons of ‘come on teach me self control’ at each opportunity as he scrambles to kick himself whilst he’s down. The strength of Don’t Fuck With Our Dreams is not all because of Wagner though; the band ebb and flow around his words with effortless ease, shifting tempos and patterns around to compliment the mood. They know when to go all out and when to hold back, developing the sound I thought they’d perfected on Nobody Gets Lost Anymore. Kids showcases all they’re capable of and more — rousing walls of basement-blasting noise littered with mini-solos and punchy beats.
Don’t Fuck With Our Dreams is an exceptionally well-crafted EP; a remarkable achievement that hits harder than albums twice, three times the length. It’s a fully realized journey of despair, aspiration and personal depth that revolves around Wil Wagner’s masterful grasp of prose and unflinching dedication to realism. The best part is that it doesn’t feel or sound like The Smith Street Band are just repeating themselves, they’ve always been like this, it just feels and sounds like a band writing music as they go through life, bouncing off the walls just hoping to hold on.
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