The Bright Smoke – Gross National Happiness

For their third album, Brooklyn-based The Bright Smoke are unabashedly anxious. Everything about this release seems geared toward displaying a sense of deep unease, right down to the literal deer-in-headlights album art.

Though the band plays as a trio for live shows, the focus here is firmly on frontwoman and songwriter Mia Wilson, who sounds by turns world weary or Riot Grrl-level angry throughout all nine tracks. With her vocal stylings, she seems to be enrolled in the Florence Welch School of Big Alto Voice Theatrics, with a fair amount of Dead Can Dance’s Lisa Gerrard-style wailing thrown in. But Wilson displays a much a much darker and more lyrically direct and confrontational bent: every song on Gross National Happiness seems to be an open critique on what she feels is happening in Trump-era America, and clearly she thinks there’s nothing much worth saving here.

“It’s open season on the weak,” she sings on “One Hundred Years.” She’s equally blunt on “Mauretania,” lamenting, “Top down trickle down but it never came…Send for me when it’s our last day.” Indeed, it seems she’s already anticipating that all this will end, and how she’ll look back on this time after it does: on “Again Again,” she asks, “Can I hold onto you as the walls close in/ ’Cause I need someone who remembers me when.” Twice she sings of doomed empires: on “American Proletariat” she sings of “an empire on its knees,” while on “The Lion And” she describes “An empire of men…an empire to end, and rebuild it.” On “Lower 48,” which opens with plaintive, minimalistic piano riff that expands into hypnotic guitar scales, she’s even more blunt in expressing her wish to scrap everything and start anew as she sings simply, “Set the Lower 48 aflame.”

As for the music backing her words, The Bright Smoke have labeled themselves “noir indie-rock,” which seems accurate, especially on the brooding “Orbit,” which blends a brooding guitar loop with an overlay of skittering distortion and menacing tribal drumming. “Broken Party” has a more post-punk feel to its snaking guitar line and shivery synth touches. Really, though, it’s the words that take center stage here, so your enjoyment (or not) of The Bright Smoke will likely entirely depend on your political affiliation.

The Bright Smoke
Gross National Happiness
[self-released]