A Brief Smile is Peter Turk’s 3rd album and, from what I can see, the first time that he has worked with a producer – Joel Myles, of Head Atlas, who also contributes a range of instrumental textures including electric guitar, synth and backing vocals). The result is something special – well-crafted songs, replete with insight, observation and reflection,  set to arrangements that are deliberate and restrained – drawing out the beauty at the heart of each work. I was impressed and happily had it on repeat for a couple of weeks!

Good songwriting strikes a balance between sharing personal insights and maintaining some mystery. Revealing and concealing in the right quantities to draw the listener in, without giving everything away. After a bit of time with A Brief Smile, I am struck in the first place by the careful line that is walked between over- and under-sharing, and the listenability (and re-listenability) that this creates.  Time and again I found myself caught on a lyric (or fragment), wondering about the intended meaning and injecting my own experiences into the gaps. There are heavy themes here – dementia and religious disillusionment to guess  at a couple – but the more mundane observations around struggling with small-talk or being judged superficially probably hit harder still. 

Lyrically, the strongest tracks are openly self-reflective – they are open and human, as the writer observes his own quirks, hang-ups and flaws. Woven through, the repeated references to dreaming, authority and control, and multiple “selves” build an ominous tone and cast uncertainty over everything. Is this real or imaginary? Literal or figurative?  And this uncertainty kept me coming back for another listen.

Musically, there is so much beautiful, careful arrangement supporting the songs.  Watery fragments of electric guitar and piano; whispers and calls from synths and strings; the occasional gritty guitar or vocal to sharpen the edges. I am struck by the restraint – the deliberate use of one or two effective coutermelodies rather than layers and layers of sound. The result is compositional, almost classical at times, and it serves the songs very well.

Stand out tracks for me are Where You Roam, indie-rocker The Impostor and Surface – the latter kicking off with a beautiful acoustic guitar, only to be transformed at the halfway mark by a dramatic, slow-plod beat and a soaring vocal through the chorus. Peter’s voice is great throughout – I’ve made a comparison to Brian Molko before but, for this album, something like Death Cab For Cutie seemed like a closer fit. Clear, strong and articulate – a storyteller’s voice and perfect for this kind of folk-rock.

From a brief look on socials, Peter and Joel are back in the studio, so here’s hoping for another album! Stream and then purchase on Bandcamp and give him a like on Facebook!