Essential New Music: Steven R. Smith’s “A Sketchbook Of Endings”

Plenty of folks have latched onto the idea of making music that creates a movie in your mind, but few have been so diligent and successful at it as Steven R. Smith. The multi-instrumentalist is so prolific that he releases music under several alternate identities (Hala Strana, Ulaan Khol, Ulaan Passerine), each with an internally consistent set of sonic parameters. But no matter the name, the music evokes vivid images; spinning one of Smith’s records is like taking a trip through time and space without ever leaving your favorite listening chair.

Smith’s choice to release A Sketchbook Of Endings under his own name does not denote some more personal turn, but acknowledges that this is probably a collection of music that didn’t fit a particular project’s sound. But the title captures the album’s vibe perfectly. Each of its 15 tracks has a feeling of summation about it. Whether articulated by fuzzed-out guitar, whirring organ or home-made fiddle, these melodies are bold enough to stick in your mind and heavy enough to make you feel like you’ve lived through something. 

—Bill Meyer