How the Light Felt

Nov 11, 2022
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By Michael James Hall

Taking their cues from the jangle pop of the ’90s, Chicago-based Smut debut with an album that blends subtle hooks with wistful lyrics and layers of reverb that will have you longing for the faded summers of youth.

“After Silver Leaves,” a Cranberries-adjacent reflection on an unhealthy teenage relationship borrows Britpop tropes to great effect. A bold opening riff, smart, baggy beats from drummer Aidan O’Connor and lofty chorus hook (“You call me by her name/But I was here first”) only accentuate the sadness in lines like “You weren’t a good person/But moments were nice.”

On “Janeway” a hefty hit of overdriven guitar fuzzes up a half-remembered dream of a song. “And if I slept all day/I know I’d float away/But when I wake there’s no escaping/Now you’ve gone my heart is breaking,” reflects singer Tay Roebuck, the diaristic honesty sobering in contrast to the sweetness of the tune, which recalls the finer sensibilities of Canada’s Alvvays.

Perhaps the best thing on How the Light Felt is “Believe You Me,” with its evocative lyric (“Winter came and the phone calls stopped/The hills caved in and the rain held off”) casting a personal, pastoral spell over a simple acoustic arpeggio. The chorus ebbs and flows beautifully as it edges toward pop perfection.

“Morningstar” may be a fumble, an experiment in trip-hop that fails to mesh with the rest of the album, and “Supersolar” may just be too indebted to The Posies to make much of a mark for itself, but there are more treats to be had with the gorgeous, redemptive optimism of “Person of Interest” (“My saddest memories/Are now filled with light, now I have you to tell”) and the slow slide of closer “Unbroken Thought.”

Grief and loss may run through the bones of the album, but it’s skin glistens and glitters in shades of both bright August sun and deep December night. Chiming guitars from Andrew Min, Bell Cenower’s washes of synth, and Roebuck’s crystal clear vocal lift immensely heavy subject matter to the light and allow the darkness to dissipate among the stars. (

Author rating: 7.5/10

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