Boris Smile – Beartooth EP

borissmile-beartoothThis too-short EP’s cover art had me hooked before I even listened to the first track. It’s simultaneously appealing in style but dark in theme, and that’s an excellent way to approach the Beartooth EP. Because Boris Smile – the project of A. Wesley Chung and a revolving cast of musicians that credits more than a dozen performers simply on this EP – is comfortably in the indie-pop realm, but a darker and richer tone to songwriting is evident on this release and especially the title track.

Boris Smile’s songs remind me of The Long Winters or John Vanderslice, in that they’re more acoustic and bare than indie-popsters like Death Cab. Vocals and acoustic guitar make up the centerpiece of these five songs, but there’s a richness in the arrangements (primarily driven by Seth Shafer) and a host of backing instrumentation that varies from horns and keys to strings and choir vocals. The excellent production never lets those additions become the focus of the song, but they create a lovely and rich backdrop to excellent songwriting.

The opening “Beartooth (Spooky Version)” perfectly sets the stage for the EP. It’s suitably stark and spooky, but the darker tone doesn’t overwhelm the band’s pop sensibilities, and Chung’s clever songwriting comes through. The echoing backing vocals provide the rich backdrop to “Beartooth,” but Chung’s voice and acoustic guitar is the clear centerpiece to the more stark “Hour of the Wolf.” The more plaintive tone to “Tut-Tut” reminds me of Clem Snide, building on a glorious swirl of pop instrumentation, while “Program Me to Love” is quieter, more mid-tempo and introspective, with hints of geeky technology references and accompanying bleeps in the background. The John Vanderslice references are more evident on the keyboard-led “Books of Blank Pages,” which is a pretty and lush way to close the EP.

Unfortunately, a web search for Boris Smile is far more likely to turn up the album Smile by Boris than this Long Beach independent band. That’s a shame, because this band could use a better presence to feature its delightful music. There are at least two other releases, but it’s difficult to find out much about them. And this teasingly short EP definitely makes me want to hear more. Indie-pop fans will love this band’s rich and clever songs.