As if Friday wasn’t good enough already, today (Sept. 21, the last day of summer) is also the day that prolific singer-songwriter-multi-instrumentalist Jason Smith picked for the release of a new collection of songs — Late Bloomer — under the name of his alter ego/bedroom project Night’s Bright Colors.
If you’re new to Smith’s indie-pop project (now a decade in the works), start with the track, “Every Silver Lining Has a Cloud,” about halfway through Late. It’s a lush and twilit instrumental, strings layered under and over strings in a tapestry of sound. A creek laps in the distance; thunder rolls. But most stunning is a cello, warm and low, that gives depth and clemency to the melody line, which is achingly pretty and shot through, here and there, with the fever dreams and Sunday blues of childhood.
It’s, perhaps, a risk, that the instrumental is the second longest track on the album. Especially as this is a 15 track album. In an era of five-song EPs, 15 tracks seems epic, but few of those on Late even reach the three-minute mark. Such is Smith’s trademark touch: light, brief, lingering just long enough to say what needs to be said.
Smith’s other trademark is effervescent lyrics (not instrumentals) that rebound and drift, floating happily upward. Even those songs tinged with sadness are sung with a gentle smile. There are no hard edges, no raw seams.
The title track (at under two minutes) is sung at almost a whisper. Close to the mic. Pillow talk, though not necessarily of the romantic ilk. “Every moment counts in the night,” Smith tells us, his song both a lullaby and a call to action — to find purpose even in dreams.
Listen to the track “Don’t Follow”:
Much of Late is bouncy (if carefully so) pop, with Smith’s fleet vocal the common thread throughout. There’s a brassy touch of horn on “That’s How The Other Half Sleeps;” a fuzzed-out guitar on the valiant, creshendoing opener, “When It Comes;” and a vintage organ surging up from the churn of “Good Bet, Goodbye.” Smith is known for is use of collaborators — likely these instrumental additions come from Asheville’s pool of musical talent.
“Anhedonia,” later in the album, is a departure of sorts. It begins with NBC’s more customery soft and moody touch. At 17 seconds in, it turns metallic. A jaunty drum beat and Smith’s vocal run through effects for a glinting result, scattered over staticy guitars and field-recorded crowd noise. There’s a chaos and itchy electricity to this song that’s been missing from earlier NBC recordings — perhaps this is what Smith is late blooming into.
Overall, Late tempers its experimentations with more familiar indie-pop offerings. The writing, throughout, is thoughtful and even at the heaviest moments, Late reveals little true aggression. Moments of reverb-charged angst are followed by passages of acoustic strings and gently-thrumming beats that propel the song cycle along.
Final track, “Brave,” opens with ambient, chiming tones that recall vespers and nights spent studying the Milky Way. A galaxy unfolds and swirls within the soundscape. The second half of the song truly is a lullaby. Here, again, strings stir at the emotions. But another morph takes place, the last minute of the songs easing into a poppy, happy march, like Smith (charmingly) can’t bear to send us off without a smile and a spring in our step. Sleep be damned, there’s dancing to be done here.