The Smile Ease
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The Smile Ease

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In the same way that Elliott Smith's moody ambience reflected the gray, rainy days of the Northwest, Smile Ease's dreamy and hazy songs reflect the icy cold of Anchorage, Alaska.

The band formed in 2001 and has since functioned as a beam of light that melts away the bitter cold of a place known for its mountain ranges and thousands of glaciers. With influences including The Beatles, Radiohead, Built to Spill and The Decemberists, Smile Ease solidly plays danceable indie songs alongside the head-swaying ambience. The vocals are light, modest and sometimes unsure, but always perfectly situated above dreamy keyboards and guitars, dotted here and there with xylophone.

The Paris-based band Air created a beautifully moody and hazy soundtrack for the film The Virgin Suicides. The songs were dark, sexy and playful, and couldn't have been better suited to the film. But if another band could do the same, it would be Smile Ease. The band's debut album, released in December, flows seamlessly, with songs ranging from less than three to more than seven minutes long. The band's members fill the stage, each commanding attention, playing several different instruments, singing and contributing to the lush, romantic sound. While Smile Ease wants people to know that Anchorage is more than just icicles and igloos, the music suggests images of the landscape. Close your eyes, listen to the music and look for frozen lakes, white mountain peaks and fish emerging from holes in the ice. Smile Ease plays at 10 pm Wednesday, Jan. 9, at Luckey's. 21+ show. $3-$5. — Amanda Burhop - Eugene Weekly


Smile Ease has a very dreamy quality to their sound with breathy harmonies and catchy melodies that seem to be pulled like magic out of fairly simple, yet beautiful chord progressions. The lead vocalist of this 11 piece ensemble has the range and tone of Paul McCartney while the band itself has a very Flaming Lips sort of appeal in their instrumental dynamic with its heavy presence of keyboards, weighty lyrics, a crunchy and lazy percussive backbone, 3 part harmonies, grooving bass lines, and an overall relaxed approach to melody building, followed up by bluesy guitar and saxophone solos that'll send you to another world altogether.

The lyrical element of their music is as mind bending as the sing titles themselves seem to suggest. In "POD", the vocalist sings: "I was behind but I caught up/I was ahead but I fell down/Take some more of these and maybe we'll feel better tomorrow."

Here's a strange question for you to get your get your brain cooking, from the track "Marathon Minutes": "Is it safe to walk off the beaten path with no strings attached? I'll see you in the aftermath."

Or how about this sample from "Affliction of Flightlessness": "Why are all the birds flying upside down? And why has my camel gone away? And why is this desert merely an ocean, an ocean filled with us who've gone astray."

And with that final thought, I'll leave you, the reader to hurry up and buy this brand new 2007 local release of Smile Ease, which can be ordered at Then...Again Music, the Valley's new source for all your music needs.

2:06 PM - 0 Comments - 0 Kudos - Add Comment - The Frontiersman


long story, in short





Not spending your Saturday night at the Moose’s Tooth? No bet.



Chances are good that if you live in or around Anchorage and like to think of yourself as a swingin’ cat about town, you snagged a CAKE ticket ages ago and wouldn’t dream of being anywhere else. Pat yourself on the back ⎯ you scored a license to groove to a national band you know well, and a local that you oughtta.



The Smile Ease, currently a five-or-more piece band packing possibly the most equipment in town for a single act, takes the stage ahead of Sacramento’s head boppin’ hipsters so you won’t spoil your supper on CAKE. Their sound: a little bitter to offset your sweet.



While some bands produce music that mimics the natural world — like the sublime expanse of electronica and slow, shiver-inducing vocals of Sigur Ros — The Smile Ease’s audio mirrors speech, thought, and interaction. The songs aren’t driven by instrumentality or lyrics alone, but by the way sounds supplement words so intuitively that all elements become essential. Nothing sounds overblown, and the music is so close to seamless it’s easier to absorb if you’re not listening for a particular riff or turn of phrase.



With an arsenal of instruments, and multi-tasking band members who swap spots on stage, frontman and primary songwriter Paul Jacks thinks the band offers an unusual live show. Lately, the band’s also been experimenting with projection during their performances. Bassist Marc Bourdon came by an old 16mm projector at Salvation Army, then went hunting for celluloid on eBay and Craigslist.



For now, the reels are a scotch-tape spliced mish-mash of whatever Bourdon could get his hands on. The images aren’t related to the music per se, but the unaffected collision of The Smile Ease’s sound and the bizarre compilation of cartoon turkeys, fly fisherman, funeral processions, and sultry ’70s cop shows is an attention-snaring phenomenon that ranges from hilarious to arresting.



With one EP to their credit, 2006’s A Long Story Short, The Smile Ease have been playing shows off and on for the past six years. “I don’t think a lot of people know that,� says core band member Ryan Bohac. Jacks agrees. “A lot of people will say, ‘Oh, The Smile Ease, they’ve been playing for a year or two.’ Really, it’s been kind of a long time.�



During that time, the band’s been through more line-up changes than Jacks and Bohac can agree on for sure ⎯ and have come to describe themselves as “more of a collective than a definitive group,â€? Jacks says.



The “collective� started at an open mic. “I walked in and Travis [Madden] was playing “True Love Waits.� It nearly made me cry,� says Bohac. “Afterwards, we got to talking about Radiohead and then started jamming together.� Self-professed “midi-guy gear-tech nerd� Jacks was already acquainted with Madden, and the three soon formed a keys, synth, and guitar-heavy trio in need of a drummer. They recruited Jason Eisert, billed themselves “The Smile Ease,� and played their first official show at Bitoz in 2001.



Stephan Koweluk, now of eu Vusahm and Hug-a-Mutha, replaced Eisert on drums after only a few shows, then relocated to Fairbanks and left The Smile Ease’s drum kit in the hands of Hug-a-Mutha band mate Shane St. Clair. The band cycled through a series of guitar-and-bass combos, including Galen Nolan and Sleep Machine’s Brandon Hafer, before settling on guitarist Nate Foerster, and Bourdon, who stepped in after watching The Smile Ease perform at a winter Insurgent 49 party.



“I was impressed live,� says Bourdon. “But what really sold me were the recordings. I really heard some potential.�



Potential enough to score The Smile Ease an opening slot that a long list of local bands crossed their fingers for.



Although they’re not putting it on a pedestal, the mid-summer show is something of a pivot point for the band. They'll play in front of the better part of scene-making Anchorage at the ’Tooth, party like it’s going out of style, and finish out August with shows around town as a group. But in September, Ryan Bohac will say his goodbyes, board a plane, and move to Portland.



So what happens next?



Jacks and Bohac shrug off the question, citing The Smile Ease's tendency to change line-ups like undergarments, and theorizing that the band will maintain its chewing-gum-in-a-cotton-field ability to pick up new talent. "It's kind of fun, you know," Jacks says. "People will see us perform and say 'Hey! Those aren't the same people' or 'Didn’t that guy play guitar?’�



Kind of fun, sure; until someone loses an eye. Conspicuously unstated, Bohac’s move will rob The Smile Ease of more than a talented musician. Playing keys, guitar, accordion, melodica, and singing, Bohac also mixes the The Smile Ease’s recorded - Anchorage Press


Discography

Smile Ease - 2007 - LP
Long Story Short - 2005 - EP

Photos

Bio

Not everything in Alaska is icicles and igloos. The Smile Ease, an Anchorage, Alaska-based band, has been warming the mind and souls of Alaska since the group began in 2001. The current line-up of Jacks (words, vocals, arrangements, guitar, piano and synth), Marc Bourdon (bass, guitar, synth, and vocals), Nate Foerster (guitars, vocals), Shane StClair (drums), and sometimes Ryan Bohac (multi-instrumentalist) is a decidedly organic amalgam which maintains the influence of past band members and finds inspiration in a diverse group of guest musicians who augment their sound. "We're more of a collective than a definitive group,"says Jacks.

The band's amorphous line-up brings an intriguing eclecticism to the music. Lush, complex, and romantic melodies ooze from the piano and vocal arrangement of Jacks and Foerster and are seamlessly put in clean relief by the straightforward drum work of StClair. Bourdon says the songs rely on "an emotional base" with the music crafted around literate and sometimes witty lyrics.

Says Rose Wallin of the Anchorage Press: "The songs aren't driven by instrumentality or lyrics alone, but by the way the sounds supplement words so intuitively that all elements become essential. Nothing sounds overblown and the music is so close to seamless it's easier to absorb if you're not listening for a particular riff or turn of phrase" The tracks are complex and absorbing, easy to fixate on and difficult to stop thinking about.'

The Smile Ease has performed in front of thousands of fans when they shared the stage with CAKE for multiple outings in the summer of 2007, and the Mountain Goats in 2008.