By John Murph | Published January 2022
Insomnia can captivate even when we’re desperately trying to escape its grip for much-needed physical, mental and emotional relief. Finding the artistic allure to pull listeners in this often hellish terrain, then crafting emotional and imaginative beauty is a lofty task. Australian-born and U.K.-based singer Nishla Smith accomplishes the feat winningly.
Jazz, with its storied legacy surrounding nightlife, makes it an ideal musical foil. But Smith doesn’t position her comely voice in a fevered-pitch to articulate the buzzing energy associated with nightlife. Instead, she personalizes the theme of sleeplessness, relying on her own struggles. Through her often languid phrasing, very intentional enunciation, and evocative compositions, she creates a darkly gorgeous interior sonic world.
Smith’s empathic quartet doesn’t attempt to match the intrepid theme with outlandish arrangements, even though some compositions such as “3 A.M.,” “Julian” and “Dawn” unfold with episodic grace. While Smith’s singing is an entrancing beauty of its own, the true trump cards are the lyrics and melodies. The somber “Julian,” which ponders the future after a devastating loss, mesmerizes in its plaintive melodicism and emotional poignancy. The buoyant “I Want To Make You Happy” bursts like ray of sunshine piercing rumbling clouds. Then, there’s the giddy closer, “Up” where Smith’s gushing lyrics evoke the fleeting feeling of finding peace and joy in this sleep disorder.
Some listeners may find Smith’s Friends With Monsters a bit too twee, but for others, seeking lyrical and thematic ingenuity, it’s worthy listening.
Friends With Monsters: Twilight; Friends With Monsters; Julian; Midnight; Home; Starlight; 3 A.M.; It Might As Well Be Spring; I Want You To Be Happy; Dawn; Up. (48:45)
Personnel: Nishla Smith, vocals; Aaron Wood, trumpet, flugelhorn; Richard Jones, piano; Joshua Cavanagh-Brierley, bass; Johnny Hunter, drums, percussion.
Ordering Info: whirlwindrecordings.com