Smoothboi Ezra – ’Stuck’ EP review: revelations and reinventions

The County Wicklow producer knits together their sparse personal stories with beefier live sounds

Over the last couple of years, Smoothboi Ezra has made a name for themselves crafting spare-sounding love songs; light on musical backing, and loaded with feeling. 2018’s debut track ‘Thinking of You’ paired strummed ukulele with barely-there percussion, and artfully deployed tweaks of high pass filter; it gave the song a transient quality, like a blaring car radio fading away towards the horizon. ‘A Shitty Gay Song About You’ was similarly pared-back, underpinned by twinkling chimes.

After fleshing out their sound further on their 2019 EP ‘Is It’ the County Wicklow singer released their single ‘My Own Person’ – a distinct levelling up with a live feel. Bolstered by extra instrumentation, Ezra explored their gender identity with both warmth and specificity (the musician is non-binary, and uses they/them pronouns). “I wanna blend into the background, I wanna be nobody and never make a sound,” they sang, “but I wanna start feeling like I can be myself”.

Now, six months later, Smoothboi Ezra’s new EP ‘Stuck’ knits together these two musical threads – sparse, emotive stories, and the heft of a beefier backing band. Backed by uneasy guitars, the title-track concerns a fraught relationship where both halves feel equally stuck. Ezra’s narrator is rooted by fear: “I can feel the growing resentment, but I’m too afraid to end it,” they admit. And their partner’s trapped in the worst year of their life, unable to see anything beyond it: “[It] started when you met me,” Ezra sings, “you say I shouldn’t take it personally.” Gradually, lone guitar builds into a propulsive heartbreak epic.

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On ‘Without You’ languid guitar lines and scuffing snares mingle together, drawing on ‘90s alternative rock; it puts Ezra in similar territory to Phoebe Bridgers, Snail Mail and Soccer Mommy. Lyrically, the song explores the uncertain grey area of love-turned-friendship, and the slightly petty everyday struggles of outwardly thriving when your heart is secretly breaking. Specifically, the ill-advised post-breakup haircut. “I finally cut a fringe,” they say dryly, “you always said I wouldn’t so I did, but I pushed it back, I’m waiting for it to grow out again”.

The EP’s more minimal tracks, ‘You’ and ‘Palm of Your Hand’, spring up from similar ground – though they’re songs written for somebody else, there’s a gulf between Ezra’s narrator and subject. On the latter, they watch from the corner of a chaotic house party as somebody else gets as fucked up as possible – all the while, kept there by a deep care that isn’t necessarily returned. And ‘You’, Ezra has explained, is about a different kind of separation: “My autism makes it hard for me to remember how I feel about people when they’re not right in front of me,” they wrote in a statement. “I have very little emotional object permanence which makes it hard to feel loved by people but also makes it hard for me to let the people I love know and feel my love for them.”

As a whole, ‘Stuck’ is about the feeling of being a step away from something, and yet feeling rooted to the spot. And in stark contrast, it’s also Smoothboi Ezra’s freest sounding release. They might feel stuck in the ground, but musically ‘Stuck’ is continually breaking loose and building bigger than anything the musician’s done before – it’s a quiet, but convincing reinvention.

Details

  • Release date: June 11
  • Release label: Ezra Williams

 

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