Bleeder releases LP
Bleeder’s nine song debut is the natural consequence of a writer who felt the need to further express themselves. Shelby Smoak’s travels from a diagnosis of hemophilia and HIV to an artist capable of summarizing all of this in book and song form gives stark evidence of the value of those endeavors. Shelby’s personal account of his life, Bleeder: A Memoir, first saw publication in 2013 and garnered nationwide attention for its artistry and vulnerability. The resulting attention surely spurred Smoak on to consider the project’s further possibility and this nine song release resulted. He’s surrounded himself with top flight musical talent to help brings his ambitions to fruition, but the primary motivating force behind these songs is Smoak – his voice, guitar, and words. This is one of the year’s most important releases for a variety of reasons, but chief among them is the vulnerability display therein.
“Happiness” has a delicacy that’s quite impressive and gets the album off on a pensive note. The post production sonic touches that influence the music here never deform the songwriting too much. Instead, it gives the opener atmospherics lacking from later tracks. The album’s alternative rock tendencies come out vibrantly with the track “Little Souvenir” and he shows a tempered hand for the form that never pushes too hard on the listener. Even at its most tormented, Bleeder’s songwriting and playing has a relaxed air as if Smoak knows exactly what he wants to do on each song. The heavy guitar rock that comes though in much of “If You” has a credible sound and plenty of musicality balancing out its muscle. The cloud of echo and reverb draped over much of the instrumentation and singing doesn’t allow listeners to disengage from the performance – instead, it enhances the aforementioned atmospheric qualities of the earlier songs, e.g. the opener. “The Past” unleashes some more of Smoak’s guitar work on the unsuspecting listener and Chuck Campbell’s drumming is a great foil for his playing. “Sideways” comes from the same place as earlier alt rock tracks like “Little Souvenir”, but it doesn’t have the same emotional specificity and heft as earlier efforts in this vein.
“Fate” has an epic feel despite its relatively common length and his piercing lead guitar playing carries the performance even higher than it might otherwise go. One of the most admirable aspects of his songwriting is Smoak’s talents for taking big concepts like “fate” and “happiness” without ever losing himself in generalities and overwrought expressions. “Satisfied” has a slightly poppy effervescence despite its guitars and the production on the vocals, frequently multi-tracked, makes it particularly special. “Hold Your Tongue” wraps up the album with dense, often astonishingly heavy, guitar work and hypnotic lyrics that Smoak unleashes with great conviction. It makes for an exceptional ending to the album and concludes a recording that sparkles with genuine substance and moments of pure poetry. Bleeder may prove to be a single album release and nothing more. So be it. Bleeder’s nine songs are a beautiful reminder in dark times of music’s transcendent potential.