After the success of their single She Takes You Under last year, and Netflix series Black Mirror using their track Take Me to the River, Welsh band Kidsmoke found their status enhanced and retreated to record their debut album A Vision in the Dark, that’s released on 19 June on Libertino Records.
Kidsmoke are Lance Williams (Vox, Guitar), James Stickels (Bass, Vox), Sophie Ballamy (Guitar, Vox) and Ash Turner (Drums). If you already know the band and enjoyed their summery indie pop tunes, then you won’t be disappointed as they build on their previous success and stick very much to that blueprint. If you’re new and looking for something a little more progressive, then it falters in that respect, sometimes leading to repetitiveness and a frustrating lack of growth.
Opening with Passenger and it’s quirky, catchy melodic lyrical hook ‘I’m moving on to god knows where, just to kill the time’, means we kick off the album with decent promise, this is a summery-fuelled, radio-friendly pop hit – on the right side of alternative for me, and eager to get into your head. They waste no time keeping that feeling going, with the most recent single Layla’s Love, a story about a relationship and wanting something that’s seemingly not going to happen in the long-term. Kidsmoke offer up some beautifully layered vocal harmonies, with more than a hint of The Sundays, but I’d like to hear more of Sophie’s voice, as her introduction with Lance does come through but the song would welcome more of those moments.
After that beginning, you’re looking for a new place to go but Colourfield isn’t really that far from their opening track. While they invest in a deeper bass line, there’s a high jangly guitar layered across the music and top side tends to blend out the impressive musicality below it all. For me, this is a recurring issue throughout A Vision in the Dark, where minutes of something radical are mixed away and it doesn’t quite push where you hope it’s about to go.
Higher has a pleasant chorus and while I’m sure there’s darkness below the surface, as She Takes You Under somewhat suggests, it’s also not that far from Passenger, so you’ve already used up a killer kick. This is easy to tap your foot along to, and there’s more wonderful collective voice-work, but it’s drowned out by production. You could have Pet Sounds-like vocal harmonisation, however they opt for the mild indie pop, which is well delivered in composition but all too nice for the casual listener, especially as the opening tracks drift into each other.
The essence of dreamy pop, with the same style throughout, is obviously Kidsmoke’s objectives. The issue that grows is then the lack of definition and alongside no variation in the lead voice, it’s frustratingly close to simply something in the background, rather than grabbing your attention. The band are obviously comfortable here but tracks like Take Me to the River is peak mid-early-90s indie and sadly could be anyone. Whilst Rising Sun pushes out the guitars a little more, it’s Still Dreams where they began to capture me again, a track to get lost within and take you off into the ether.
Little Easy might have been a great moment to let Sophie take centre stage on the vocals, enabling a change of character, thus adding to their story but doesn’t progress. To close A Vision in the Dark, they leave us with a definite go-to ‘hit’ in The Bluest You and I like that it’s at the end. While it offers an easy accessibility, and reflects a strong Lightning Seeds sensibility in their Jollification era, just as it gets going, it fades at the exact point they had a chance to punch their weight and offer a tease of something bigger.
A Vision in the Dark has moments of huge possibility, and they’re clearly competent musicians, but it instead takes on the role of an unobjectionable, background-vibe collection for a vague summer’s day. While there aren’t enough stand-out tracks to make this a ‘pay attention’ debut, I’m still strangely hopeful they’ve got more to come.