Stephen Paul Smoker
Release Date: Mar 20, 12
After several years putting in time as a touring hand, psych-rocker Stephen Paul Smoker has struck out on his own (full band of his own in tow) with Ripe Fruit, his debut full-length. Rife with the kind of psychadelia characteristic of many of his peers on Chicago’s Kilo Records, Ripe Fruit explores some fairly well-worn rock territory, but does it well and with a refreshing deal of assurance. At times he drifts a bit too far into the airy listlessness that comes as an occupational hazard of the genre; “The Light…Pt. 1” features whispering acoustic guitar and a flute solo, and doesn’t really expand into anything more substantial. This isn’t to say the album’s quieter moments aren’t interesting. “Cold as a Stone,” while featuring Smoker’s best impression of Matt Bellamy, channels a palpable melancholy that’s quite effective.
Many of Ripe Fruit’s best moments are those in which Smoker unleashes his inner blues man. Album highlight “Green City” showcases a fuzzy stomp that sees Smoker dipping into his lower vocal register, where he sounds curiously close to Jack White at times. (Throughout the whole album, his skills as a vocal chameleon really shine.) By the time he builds to a bellowing howl before the song retreats slowly back, it’s clear he’s most at home when he’s going his hardest. “I Gotta Try” shoots for this same balance, with a pretty huge chorus in tow, but gets a bit too spastic for its own good. Likewise, album closer “Man Dives Deep” aims for a smoky denouement, but feels a bit too anticlimactic.
Smoker’s other real gift is for the kind of spacey, dreamy psychadelia that the 70s made famous. “Salutations” begins with jittery feedback that expands into a more open melody, while still maintaining a coiled tension, like the musical equivalent of a set jaw. By song’s end, Smoker rises to the highs of declaring “Hallelujah!,” and it’s rather breathtaking to hear. “I Dreamed I Was,” while lyrically a bit cliché, features the atmospheric organs and codeine-drenched bass of early Pink Floyd, and this is meant as a compliment. Ripe Fruit will likely find Smoker, in certain circles, a wider audience, and it’ll be a reward that is well deserved.