Hot damn, Hot Candy! Modern rock n roll never sounds this fresh. The second album from Smokey Brights is both a rebirth and a milestone, a head trip and a body high, meticulously crafted but natural as daylight. The music taps into history and stretches out a kind of visionary rock that rolls relentlessly forward while recombining iconic sounds—prog, funk, Bowie, Styx, Wilco, Flaming Lips—into something urgent and fun and utterly surprising.
Seriously: If you're not already listening to Hot Candy, you're losing precious seconds.
What else do you need to know? Two singers (married), a guitar hero some call Keanu J. Fox, and a crack rhythm section with veteran status. Since their 2014 debut Taste for Blood, Smokey Brights have amassed a rabid base of fans across the West Coast, gaining momentum with every show. They are a self-started, self-sustaining rock n roll machine that generates maximum joy through musical communion.
The members of Smokey Brights have been singing and playing together in various incarnations across Seattle for more than 15 years. Ryan Devlin and Kim West—the married singers—write the bones for most of the songs in their North Seattle living room. The mind-meld between drummer Nick Krivchenia and bassist Jim Vermillion leads to unpredictable, shape-shifting groove. Mike Kalnoky—the guitar hero—tops it all off with counterpoint melodies and soaring solos. Coming together at Wizard House, their hand-me-down rehearsal space, the band bursts with life and love and an offbeat energy that's infectious. Hot Candy is an album made by a company of pros finding their finest voice in collective effort.
Start the album from the beginning and dig it all the way through. Every song is a discreet, complex world unto itself that rewards patient listening. Right from the start Hot Candy evokes a rock n roll fantasy, born from a whoosh of noise to coalesce into the hard-driving opener—and lead single—"In Demand." Is this a fist-pumping rock anthem or a brazen indictment of Internet-driven overconsumption? Yes and yes.
Kim steps to the mic for song two, the sinuous, sultry "Desiree," outro-ing with full flange and four-four stomp. "Not Enough Time" is simultaneously beautiful, foreboding, complex and catchy—a swirl of emotions that might be Smokey Brights' signature cocktail. As Kalnoky unleashes one of the album's most luscious guitar hooks, Ryan sings, "You’ve got to stand some in the rain to get lightening struck/And that’s just how it is."
Four songs in, "Malibu Musk" slows down and slithers into a sinister, twilit foreboding that foreshadows the album's latter half. The band describes the next track, "Baby Bigshot," as a lullaby for the Baby Boom generation, Ryan singing, "We're waiting for the trickle down!" No, that isn't a Theremin’s weird coo on "Start Wearing Black"—that's Kim's natural singing voice, which goes on to boost a stunning finale and one of the album's finest, freakiest moments. "Ugly Evergreen" features achingly lovely vocal interplay between Ryan and Kim as the band builds to another monumental climax. Closer "Stickman" is a sweet, sad coda, acoustic-strummed and fingersnapped like a tender farewell.
To make Hot Candy, Smokey Brights decamped for a week at the end of 2015 to the Rock n Roll BnB, a live-in recording studio on Sauvie Island, a verdant refuge surrounded by the Columbia River a few miles from Portland, Oregon. The digs were throwback, but the gear was impeccable, as was the ear of host/producer/engineer Sean Flora. The result is simply one of the most refreshing records you'll hear all year. Trust.
Now get yourself to the nearest sound system and do the damn thing!