Graham Smith Final Battle

If there were ever a band that somehow managed not to live up to their initial potential, it was Kleenex Girl Wonder. Ponyoak was a remarkable album, one of 1999's best, yet with each subsequent release, Graham Smith (who was the KGW head honcho) got weirder and weirder. And not in a good way. That’s why Final Battle, Smith’s first solo release, is a huge surprise because he appears to have found the balance between normal and strangeness. And while he still walks that line, he doesn’t fall off as frequently as he did in the past and that makes for a much more satisfying record. There’s nothing particularly complicated about the 13 songs presented here — they all have that lo-fi, home recorded sound, but he does switch on the amp too, stopping it all from becoming too cloying. And best of all, his quality control has gotten a whole lot better and every song is a keeper. At times the vocals are erratic, in a Jeff Magnum sort of way and even Smith’s label is trying to court the comparisons to Neutral Milk Hotel. While there are definitely some similarities, this isn’t In An Aeroplane Over The Sea Part Two by any means, but it is likely to keep people happy until Magnum gets back into the studio again. Despite any similarities to anyone else, Final Battle demonstrates that Smith’s initial promise and talent wasn’t just a fluke. (March)