Kids are perpetually optimistic. They approach everything with an unfettered enthusiasm that eludes us when adulthood takes hold. James Smith (Good Good Blood) should know, he has four of them. Though he concedes that “the world has gone blind” on ‘For A Little While’, he sees a better, more hopeful future in the eyes of his children and the eyes of other youngsters, particularly those who take it upon themselves every Friday to abandon school and demand answers from those most responsible for the climate crisis. On the day Trump became US President, Smith woke up to a note scrawled by his then six-year-old which read, “Boo! For Trump and harray for Clinton. Trump is horibull”. The kids are alright.
On his fifth album as Good Good Blood, Smith embodies the spirit of his children, believing that they and their peers will bring about a better tomorrow. Written in his family home, his children and partner are present throughout, all the noises of their daily life – keys dropped on the table, little feet bouncing off wooden floors, creaking chairs – filtering through into the final recording. They even exist as arbiters of the songs that end up here, Smith knew that ‘Say Goodbye’ was strong enough to make the final cut when his nine-year-old began subconsciously humming the melody.
His home is sacred, an intimate space he wants to protect from the harbingers outside. ‘At Your Mercy’ invites us to crane our necks and peer beyond the threshold, to see everything that Smith holds dear. “All we need are sanctuary mornings / Sat inside with you as rain is pouring / All we need are sanctuary mornings / Stay in bed while thunder heeds its warning” he sings on ‘Sanctuary Mornings’.
Though Smith’s hopefulness does come across in his lyrics, the music radiates this optimism best. Originally birthed on a £10 acoustic guitar prized from a charity shop, the songs only really began to evoke the hopefulness Smith envisioned when Kevin Allan (Fair Mothers) lent a hand, his washes of meandering keys transporting the songs into a newfound territory of enchanting chamber pop.
While his past albums may have sounded as austere and lo-fi as the recording process itself, ‘At Your Mercy’ is full-blooded and complete, at times sounding almost as mountainous as the post-rock of Sigur Ros. Smith loops his vocals, so they resemble a choir, hooping and hollering like wolves communally howling into the night. This works to best effect on six-minute-epic ‘It’s Burning Down’ when you feel compelled to join the choir of Smith’s creation, helplessly chanting along to the empowering chorus, “When you’re gone / You’re always here / On and on / Your smell so near”.
Repeat sittings could inspire even the most ardent pessimist to imagine a better future. Go to any major city on a Friday lunchtime and you’ll see from the school strikes that the kids believe the mist can clear. And if they believe, so must you.