Fans of The Smith Street Band, and their vocalist/lyricist Wil Wagner, are no strangers to having their hearts broken through music. Wagner has a habit of penning lyrics in a way that is somehow both intensely personal and profoundly relatable. The band, however, has outdone themselves with their latest release, More Scared of You Than You Are of Me. This record finds The Smith Street Band going bigger, bolder, and darker with their art.
Most of More Scared of You follows the rise and fall of a destructive relationship, the early stages of which play out in the band’s most recent single, “Birthdays.” The song paints a picture of an enthusiastic, lovesick, almost euphoric Wagner, eager to spend time with a new crush and plan their future together. The listener finds themself rooting for the new couple, despite a voice in the back of your head that noticed he’s taking things rather quickly. The song takes advantage of The Smith Street Band’s trademark rapid crescendo, with a bridge that’s stripped down to a solo guitar, vocals, and a gentle rhythm section that immediately jumps into a strong chorus that’s guaranteed to stir up enthusiasm in the pit.
The listener is forced to acknowledge that this relationship won’t last as “Run Into the World” comes in, approximately mid-album. The lyrics reference unwinnable arguments, self-harm, and the sinking realization that being in a relationship isn’t a cure for mental illness. These problems aren’t one-sided, and Laura Stevenson’s guest vocals provide a second perspective: “If nothing gets better, neither will I.”
Things get even darker in “It Kills Me to Have to Be Alive,” a mostly bare-bones track that’s more reminiscent of Wagner’s solo album, “Laika”, than anything else The Smith Street Band have put out. This song has Wagner at his most vulnerable, confessing to falling into the depressive cycle of isolating himself from the people he needs most: “I do not feel that I am loved but I do not reach out enough.” The song picks up for a moment—adding the instrumentation and shouting fans have come to expect from The Smith Street Band—much in the same way that folks with depression find themselves in brief moments of reprieve from sadness before being sucked into it again. The song ends as quietly as it began, repeating the titular line: “It kills me to have to be alive / It’s killing me to have to be alive.”
More Scared of You Than You Are of Me is everything we’ve come to expect from The Smith Street Band and more. It is brutally honest, oscillating from deeply depressing to blindly optimistic and often occupying both spaces at once. There are songs to scream and dance along to at shows and songs to sob to, alone in your bedroom. The album only just came out and it already amazes me that it hasn’t been with me my whole life-how could I have lived up until this point without hearing this? I don’t believe that music can save lives, but it can push folks to want to survive. More Scared of You Than You Are of Me is an incredible piece of art, and it’s going to help a lot of people.
Rating: 8 out of 8 slices
If you are experiencing a mental health crisis, please do not be afraid to seek help and please know you are not alone. There are people you can talk to:
US: 800 273 8255
Australia: 13 11 14
UK: 0800 58 58