Frank Smith is on a roll. This is their second album in two years and their seventh overall. Don’t know how they are so prolific and yet the quality is always raised. More people need to pay attention to this band.
Country, honky-tonk, punk, and indie rock are just some of the labels one might apply to Frank Smith. At this point in their career, I have trouble discerning what elements come from where. The songs are so diverse and good that one does not care how to classify it. They are just “Frank Smith” from Austin, Texas, and Aaron Sinclair (from the Lot Six/Drexel) is the singer/songwriter fronting them.
Nineteen is a journey. The songs are longer than they have been on recent releases. Not that the record is overstuffed or proggy. On the contrary, it is a fantastic collection of campfire country with indie rock blasts. The songs are just literally longer and the canvas is bigger.
The band starts the album with the epic title track. It goes through many moods. There are tones of elation but also regret. Some parts are clear, while others are dissonant. This back and forth is what makes Nineteen (both the album and the song) so enjoyable to listen to. It draws you in with its simplicity, but there is so much more underneath the surface that bubbles up and down. “Nineteen” is a great assemblage of the entire album’s thesis. It builds up and then explodes until it fades out again. An incredible start.
“It’s on Our Backs” is a fantastic, bleak song. There is something ominous growing throughout the track. The tune builds and builds but doesn't go anywhere. Not that this is bad—the weird song structure actually fits. You will feel creeped out and heartbroken as the song devolves into a soothing, wordless chant.
“Swollen Tongue” is a tremendous centerpiece for the album, bristling with anxiety and power: “Never gonna get...what you want.” The song is a great country freak-out.
It is hard, for me at least, to know what Aaron is singing about. But that is part of the joy of a Frank Smith album...discovering. I feel that much of the album’s tone is about growing up and reminiscing, but also letting things go. “Nineteen”; “5, 10, 15, 21, 23, 32”; “Passin’ Through Time”; “L.O.V.E.”; and “Kids” all have these themes.
“Hold Me by My Feet” is a slow and epic, acoustic alt-country song. Even though it is almost seven minutes long, whenever the pre-chorus hits, you can feel the anguish ripping through Aaron’s voice. Never gets boring.
“Kids” is an awesome upbeat folky tune. “When we were kids, we thought this would be easy. Dreams weren't dreams, they were just us getting busy.”
“Be the Disease” concludes the album. The track starts off slow and almost dreamy but it changes midway through. Sounds almost like two songs put together, but they make perfect sense. The second half is somewhat off-kilter, with a repeated chorus on top of the music that gets louder and louder to finish the album.
Frank Smith always surprise and never let down. A dynamic, soothing, frantic country-folk-indie band that has released a classic album in a genre all their own.