The Splendid Debut LP from Arizona’s Talented Music Duo The Smiles and Frowns

Arizona musicians Adam Mattson and Christopher James, known as the duo The Smiles and Frowns, really got our attention with their well crafted, simplistic pop melodies, instrumentation and beautiful, harmonic vocals.

Since receiving their debut, self-titled LP last month, we’ve played it again and again. In fact, we fell in love with it so much, that it became necessary to step back and wonder how does one write a review of such a surprisingly terrific album? First off, they are so original that it’s difficult to even begin to classify their sound.

Each track on The Smiles and Frowns has its own charm, identity and story to tell. This release is easily one of the best indie music debut albums of 2009. Let’s jump right in and fire up one of the album’s many highlights, “The Echoes of Time.”

“The Echoes of Time”The Smiles and Frowns from s/t debut (2009)

If you find yourself playing that song again and again, and eventually singing along, or even humming, you won’t be alone. It’s one of the catchiest, most memorable songs of the year. The song’s appeal can also be attributed to its sweet, organic simplicity.

The duo’s contrasts are intriguing. For example, the guys switch it up on the next song, “Mechanical Songs,” which starts off with a carnival like sampling before transitioning into a melancholic lo-fi ballad of sorts where the lyrics are at the forefront of the song backed only by guitar and some keyboard infusions. Interestingly, the song manages to pay justice to its title with a minimal reliance on instrumentation.

“Mechanical Songs”The Smiles and Frowns from s/t debut (2009)

Amazingly, there are very few reviews of this album to be found online. This was a shock, to say the least, but it also somehow makes it all the more special – like our little wonderful secret.

The song, “Sam,” is yet another example of the originality and honesty of The Smiles and Frowns’ music. And this is also apparent in our Q/A (see below) with Adam Mattson. In true indie fashion, The Smiles and Frowns recorded their album in their own space using their own equipment, and proceeded to self release it on their own label, The Peppermint Hill.

“Sam”The Smiles and Frowns from s/t debut (2009)

While not everyone is likely to give the LP 4.5 of 5 stars as we have, that’s fine because there is a certain appreciation and attraction for the professed stylistic influences of French cinematic music and rock and pop bands like The Beatles, The Kinks and Pink Floyd that swirl and twirl to create a wonderful collage of artistic music throughout the record. Seriously, if you can wear down an MP3 album by playing it too much, we’re well on the way with this one.

In the final analysis, it’s nearly impossible to put into words the authentic appeal of The Smiles and Frowns’ music, but it is yet another example of why we love great independent music so much.

The Smiles and Frowns on MySpace

IRC’s Interview with The Smiles and Frowns

Q: Who are your musical influences, past and present?

A: It’s impossible to list all the things that have influenced us…Well lets just say that all of the classic bands and albums have affected us. As for modern bands we like, just stop by our myspace page and dig around in our friends list and youll find plenty of brilliance. Damien Youth is a longtime favorite. And we recently were blown away by the artistry of R.W. Hedges, and we suggest checking both of them out.

Q: What genre would you say your music falls into?

A: A question like that can only be answered in regard to perspective. If you sit far enough back we might as well be just the same old classic pop/folk/psych band. But if you get up close and pay sincere attention, there is no one doing exactly what we are doing in the way that we are. So I’m glad to be such a part of tradition and revolution all at once.

Q: What are your thoughts on how bands and musicians can make a living in
time when no one knows how to make money on their music?

A: This is tough to answer. I guess if there were only 10 bands on earth and there was no such thing as digital downloads those 10 bands would be rich. But there are a billion bands. Everyone and their brother is in a band. Music might as well be free these days because of how easy it is to get it, and how much of it there is. The only thing I can think of is for people to try to be more original and truly look inside themselves to find a more personal way to express themselves. That way, the art they are putting out will be more and more unique and rare, and it won’t be something someone can just imitate. People can steal your face. They can steal your riff. But they can’t ever steal your memories and your unique outlook, so I say look to those places for inspiration first, then worry about money later. Chances are if you tap into that personal thing in your art to that degree, money won’t seem like such an essential part of being happy with your life.

Q: What are some of your favorite songs/albums?

A: Here are some songs, just off the top of my head, that we both enjoy:
“Strawberry Tea” – Tiny Tim “The ABC’s” – Dr. Dog “Land Of Oden” – Peter & Gordon “Cold Hard World” – Daniel Johnston “Chapi Chapo Theme” – François de Roubaix

Q: When did you form your label; any other artists on the roster; or plans for such?

A: The label (The Peppermint Hill) was first formed as a legal means of releasing music. But after awhile it seemed like a good idea to try to turn it into something more. We will just have to see how it goes. The only reason to do anything with it would be to get out more of the kind of stuff we think should exist and be heard.

Q: What kind of equipment do you use to record?

A: We have used all kinds. The realest of the real analog, and the fakest of the fake digital. We use things that are cheap and half broken and also some pretty high end stuff. We have been slaves to both the antique and the modern. But as far as specifics go, we have an old 1/2″ 8 track reel to reel tape recorder, a Moog, various old guitars and basses, some effects pedals and tape echos, a tube amplifier, a banjo that everybody borrowed twice, and some old ribbon microphones. Its really just a big mix of all types of equipment from all eras, including modern technology.

Q: How and why did you guys start recording together?

A: We have known each other since high school, and both of us had a similar interest in music and art. Art with ironic twists and heavy escapism. We found ourselves in a band after several years of experimental recording and songwriting. It started off as just a means of self entertainment.

Q: How would you describe your music?

A: The current sound is a bit of a mix. There are haunted train ride songs, and children’s theme music songs, psychedelic science fiction songs, etc. I guess it’s mostly just a collection of experiments in sound, patterns, and melodies.

Q: How would you describe your process for writing and recording?

A: A lot of the songs are conceived melody first… as an idea forms, it springs forth from Adam into a micro-cassette recorder while banging down the road in a cupcake delivery truck. The melodies and lyrics are later fished out by us and then given a body. This is at least one way that our songs have found life.

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