Toxic relationships are one of the most harrowing experiences that you can go through. And I can tell you that first hand. It can be very difficult to dive into those memories, but impossible not to at the same time. The memories will haunt you, and it can be difficult to allow yourself to explore them. But it can also be oddly cathartic and therapeutic to face them too. And sometimes the healthiest thing that you can do.
I felt myself doing that from the very first track on Your Man Alex Smith’s debut album ‘Slow Burn’. It takes you through the addictive highs and lows of trauma bonding. Truthfully, I had a very strong emotional response to the content of the songs. But it was an important response to have. Alex’s record achieved something a very rare; an honest recollection of a bad situation. We are inundated with survivor songs and media that convinces you that you come out stronger after going through something. But it doesn’t always feel that way.
‘Slow Burn’ moves from the honeymoon phase, through the trauma bonding phase and straight back out to the grief and realisation phase. All important phases with their own unique challenges. The album plays out like a movie. The track order is very particular, going through every step in order as the relationship would have gone. It fuses genre tropes from country to rock to musical theatre, creating vivid imagery and something wholeheartedly enjoyable while still remaining completely devastating.
Align opens the record. Recorded like a traditional country song (right down to the accent) it is, in traditional country fashion, very narrative-oriented. “Their love burned bright like the stars at night, but the stars don’t always align” he introduces early into the first verse, setting the precedent for the rest of the song and record. Detailing a man who gave his heart away to a woman who turned her heartache into ‘burning’ others, the song pertains a ‘fire and ice’ metaphor, describing a partnership that didn’t work. The country music tropes allow the song to have a fun exterior with a heartbreaking message, delivering the story exactly as it was meant to be told.
“Come anyone who will listen, I’ve got a story to share. About a woman I know with the most gorgeous soul you’re going to find anywhere” he opens in Julia Bryer, setting up for another story-oriented track of the same nature. An infectious violin melody overtakes between the vocal parts.
“Now I never could see what that girl saw in me but you know I could never complain. Because as long as I’m holding her hand every soul in the land knows I’m never in pain… Until the star’s burn bright, ’till the seas run dry. Oh I’ll be loving you my dear, ’till the day I die.”
He sings, professing his love and joy for Julia. The song ends on a sombre note, noting the relationship ended as he goes through all of his regrets for not telling her he loved her enough. The emotion shifts, changing the song’s production from a country bop to a theatre ballad.
Run Into The Night feels like a mix between 80’s rock and modern musical theatre with a pop edge. Smith’s vocal delivery is fast-paced and exciting. It counteracts the sadness at the end of the track’s predecessor.
“You can’t change where you came from, you can’t run from something within you. But I know this is what you need to do. So we’ll run, and when you’re done, I’ll be right here for you”
The backing vocals sound exactly like a Broadway choir, forcing the listener to imagine the song as if they were watching it. Gentle acoustic guitar and piano opens Rescue Me. The sound is reminiscent of an early 2000s rock song. “Baby, can anybody get to me? Baby, I need someone to rescue me.”.
“I gotta get out, get out of this place. ‘cos if I stay here any longer, I’m staying with the wrong girl, you won’t recognise my face” he sings about starting to recognise the patterns and impacts of a toxic relationship in Get Out. “But I can’t leave her behind”. The song quickly changes from sombre to classic rock, moving from sadness to frustration, anger and pain, accurately depicting the mess and muddle of emotions when faced with abuse. Recognising that he needs to leave, without yet finding the strength to do so. “I’ve got to get out, it’s different this time. But I can’t leave her behind”. “I can’t imagine all the horrors on the troubled road that could lead someone to here” he sings, somewhat sympathising with her as victims often do. “But when you love someone you stick with them when times are hard.”
The tone completely drops to a gentle solo piano before Alex’s vocals enter in Can’t Do This Anymore. The song stays slow and melancholic as he realises more and more the situation that he is in. “I’m sick of crying. I love you, but I took too long to learn. And I had you but God I didn’t earn you” he sings in the song’s heartbreaking emotional high. “But baby I’ve been here before. And I can’t do this anymore. I know we can be better, but not if we’re together”. Trigger falls back in to a classic rock feel. Detailing about how even though someone may be bad for you, you still have an undeniable attraction to them, the song is an accurate depiction of how toxic relationships create trauma bonds and an irresistible attraction to the person you are coupled with.
“Open your textbooks, there we are. Addicted to the high’s and lows, should’ve seen it sooner.” he opens in Pilot Light, acknowledging the addictive reality of unhealthy relationships.
“All my lover’s tell me that it’s cold in your shadow and I wish I could convince them that they don’t have to be you. ‘Cause we were far from healthy, we were not an aspiration”.
Sings Smith, acknowledging the long-term impact of these relationships. “And the love’s not dying, it’s just getting colder”. It Was Good Once he sings, reminiscing on the highs of the relationship. Featuring a female vocalist, the song shows the fallout of the coupling from both perspectives. This song acknowledges how after leaving a harmful relationship, how natural it is to remember and grieve all of the good parts. “And this isn’t real” he signs as the music quickly stops, acknowledging that the female voice is a projection of what he would want her to say and feel. The song continues the record’s theatrical theme with an instrumental dance break in the middle of the track, much like if it were in a musical. “It was good once, it had to be”.
Dawn closes the album, the most introspective and reflective song on the record. “I always thought that I was the victim or that I was some pure hearted hero and convinced myself that you were the villain” he sings, reflecting on the pain his actions also caused his partner. “It’s just that you hurt me in ways we could see” he sings, voicing that she may have been physically violent, but he was tumultuous in other ways. This song is one of the most important on the record. The cycle of violence can be easy to repeat, but acknowledging and facing what negative behaviours were brought out of you in the bad situation is the only way to ensure that they don’t happen again. “I am in pain everyday”.
‘Slow Burn’ is not just something to listen to and enjoy, it is an album to experience. For me, the songs were equally as confronting as they were comforting; a place to go when you don’t want to feel alone in your trauma. Toxic relationships never leave you, they will stay with you forever. But art like what Your Man Alex Smith has made with this album can act as the friend you need when you simply want to be understood.
‘Slow Burn’ will be available on all platforms on Friday the 18th of June
YOUR MAN ALEX SMITH
‘Slow Burn’ Launch
Friday June 18th – The Woolly Mammoth Mane Stage, Brisbane
Featuring Aspy Jones and Sabrina Lawrie
Tickets on sale NOW
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