It seems there is no shortage of young Irish people documenting their coming-of-age experiences. Sorcha Richardson, whose debut album First Prize Bravery was released in late 2019, boasts a particular affinity for finding the right lyric to express the right moment, especially when it comes to self-discovery. That first record was the result of time spent abroad in the states, New York and Los Angeles in particular, searching within for the words to express this particular time in her life; love, heartbreak, learning experiences, loss, and how the self is centred within. It was a critically acclaimed debut that introduced Richardson as a songwriter of great talent.
Three years and a pandemic later, Richardson returns with Smiling Like An Idiot, a sophomore release that documents the Dalkey musician’s relationship to her native city. With tours rescheduled countless times over the course of the Covid-19 lockdowns, Richardson had time to focus on her second record. Moving into her grandparents’ house and setting up a makeshift studio allowed for ample time to write alone, and the result is her most personal, reflective and accomplished work to date.
Opener ‘Archie’ documents a teenager’s passionate love for music – ‘making posters / trying to start a band’ – told through Richardson’s sweet yet arresting vocals. The production is replete with a ‘Space Oddity’ sliding guitar scale and a completely earned distorted guitar solo. It’s a love song with an undercurrent of fear; ‘don’t you disappear’ she asks in the chorus, implying that stability is never a guarantee whether in Dublin city or in love.
Slowing the pace
Dublin plays a major role in the character of this album. She’s ‘walking aimless on the Quays’ and pointing Americans towards their city centre hotels, on ‘Hard To Fake It’. ‘Dublin city’s shutting down,’ she sings on ‘525’, a delicate acoustic guitar-driven track that reflects the distorted passage of time during Dublin’s lockdowns: ‘Time is moving kinda slow, but still the weeds and roses grow’. It’s a poignant song that slows the pace of the album at the right moment. Sombre without being sentimental, it’s a delicate moment of reflection for the recent past, and how far we’ve come since reopening the world once more.
While much of the mood might be sombre, Richardson strikes a balance within this melancholy indie rock. Guitars and synths are front and centre throughout, with Richardson’s vocals blending within the mix. ‘Stalemate’ is a particularly accomplished arrangement; the jangly electric guitars, the creative bass runs that appear and disappear in an instant, and the subdued yet jubilant vocals that carry the melody in the chorus. Where she might have once opted for the most straightforward arrangement, here she is unafraid to make some noise.
Her lyrics, too, have been fine-tuned. ‘I say yes when I should say nothing, I say nothing when I should say no,’ she reflects on ‘Purgatory’, a song that explores the impulse to carry on in an unhappy relationship rather than calling it quits once and for all. ‘Purgatory’ is another track that has benefited from Richardson’s experience and confidence; around halfway through the mood changes, her vocals take a backseat to allow for a beautiful live drum and piano duet. It’s a fleeting moment in just one track but exemplifies what appears to be the approach to producing the album: experimentation, risk-taking and creative decision-making.
These risks pay off – over eleven tracks, she doesn’t miss once. While First Prize Bravery was the perfect introduction to this talented artist, Smiling Like An Idiot proves that lightning can strike twice. This is a confident and honest record that blends a pensive sense of self-reflection with a greater hope that things might change. Thankfully, it looks as though Richardson will have the opportunity to tour the record this time around. Good thing, too; these are songs made for affirming, collective experiences with others.
To purchase Smiling Like an Idiot, visit: https://factionrecords.lnk.to/srslai
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Published on 21 September 2022
Andrea Cleary is a freelance music and culture writer based in Dublin.