Television. Bloody fantastic idea, but then what’s the point when there’s nothing decent on, and more especially, when there is nothing informative on. That’s how I used to feel, but television does have its uses, and it’s shown its uses through my discovery of Benjamin Francis Leftwich late one night on channel four talking about his forthcoming album, ‘Last Smoke Before The Snow Storm’, but is his album really worth harping about on the old rubbish box, will television and its constant useless misinformation let me down again?
I think I need to get this straight right away, ‘Last Smoke Before The Snow Storm’ is hardly a mainstream music media monster, to this day I am confused as to why such a program focused solely on this one release was aired over perhaps I don’t know, some bollocks release by The Wanted or if we are going down the folk roots which Leftwich implies with his music, the massively popular Mumford & Sons, but there we go.
Opening track ‘Pictures’ focuses very much around Leftwich’s vocals, deep, reverb friendly, think M Ward but more radio friendly and you pretty much get it. The song is simple in its structure, a quietly picked guitar melody while Leftwich hauntingly sings such lines as, “If you find faith in your parents God, don’t be afraid to point flaws in it”. It’s only in the chorus that things pick up, and even that is only ever so slightly, with hushed ooooh’s soothing their way into your ears. It’s perhaps song writing at its best, with Leftwich not needing to scream in your face to get your attention, the sparseness of his style draws you in, convincing you to keep hushed and listen intently to every lyric sung and every guitar string plucked, brilliant.
‘Box of Stones’, the main single from the album, is very much a change of aesthetic from ‘Pictures’. The bright, summery guitar melody creating a lush counter balance to Leftwich’s at times, dreary voice (I say this in a complimentary way). The song itself has a fuller sound; violins lightly tickle their way into the backing track swelling at the correct times for a spine tingling sensation. For the first time, female vocals are prevalent mimicking Leftwich has he sings through his first real catchy chorus lyrically, “I am young, I am yours, I am free”, if this doesn’t attract the attention of those young heart-broken folky kids, then I don’t know what will.
‘Atlas Hands’ is yet another stand-out track (and there are a whole lot more that I won’t mention in fear of boring you), a tale of travel and of remembered love. Once again, fitting with Leftwich’s sound, it’s quietly done. A simple almost country-esque strummed guitar maintains the base of the track – no drums are ever found here – with the occasional picked lead guitar coloured over the top to bring out the beautiful melody on display here. Female vocals make another appearance here but late on mimicking Leftwich again as he sings, “I’ve got a plan, I’ve got an atlas in my hands”, if you were dumb enough to ignore the rest of the track, this is the part that will prick your ears up, the high female vocals working in complete order with Leftwich’s deep vocals, complimenting them.
I can imagine my mother listening to ‘Last Smoke Before The Snow Storm’ and telling me that it’s suicide music, such is the downbeat nature of it. I can also imagine one specific friend telling me that it’s pretentious and that it’s middle class music. That’s the great thing about music though, it’s all opinion, and for me, ‘Last Smoke Before The Snow Storm’ has everything I want in a modern album with no real skip-able tracks (which is very rare, most albums have tracks that we can take or leave). Leftwich clearly wears his heart on his sleeve lyrically and vocally, emotion pours out of him, this makes it difficult not to find this release endearing. Musically, perhaps it isn’t adventurous, he’s hardly going to be compared to virtuoso bands like Battles but it does the job it was no doubt written to do, underpinning the emotion shown in the vocals, with music that is slow, spacious, but above all, moving for his listeners.
‘Last Smoke Before The Snow Storm’ paints a bleak picture, but it’s an absolutely stunning one. Don’t download this album, buy it, Leftwich deserves that much for this masterpiece and I guarantee that you won’t regret it.