Sills & Smith chose the first day of the first month of 2018 to release their much-anticipated sixth studio album called Maps — Burned or Lost. The duo, which is composed of Ottawa singer-songwriters Jeremy Sills and Frank Smith, have spent the last few years getting together material for the new album, which spans an impressive 70 minutes over fourteen tracks.
This album’s strengths are many, but the two key pieces that stand out are its grandiosity and its breadth in sound and styles. Deciding on a fourteen-track record is rather unusual by today’s standards, particularly in the streaming economy that craves instant gratification. The first thing I thought when I saw that it was going to be such a long listen was “uh oh,” only because I’ve heard records before that have a lot of filler, which doesn’t tend to add much to the concept as a whole. Some bands try to cram as much as they can in to one album, because it is, after all, cheaper and less work to record a bunch of songs you’ve written in one go.
But that’s not the case here. Sills & Smith are veterans, and they knew what they were doing from the start of this process. Once the listener warms up with an excellent trio of opening tracks—”On the Edge,” “Kings,” and “A Freight Train”— one gets the sense that this album is meant to be listened to slowly. Why rush? They really slow things down on “Maps”,”Waves,” and “No Measuring,” and once again this song grouping transports the listener into a certain somber mood, encouraging us to really listen closely and use our imaginations to discern the detailed imagery embedded in their lyrics. The album carries on at this pace, with the exception of the groovy and upbeat song “Miss Us,” as Sills & Smith take us on a journey down their river, leisurely floating along until we near the end.
Upon listening to the whole record, it becomes apparent that Sills & Smith really explore their musical influences. Their self-described experimentation with “pastoral folk, trippy indie rock, and progressive rock” only touches on the surface of the substance on Maps—Burned or Lost. The album’s foundations are built on Canadiana folk music, with Sills’ guitar work that is sometimes rugged, twangy and blues-driven, while at other times reverb-laden and melodic. The two work off each other wonderfully, working in tandem to provide a full and rich sound the whole way through. We can also thank the one and only Phillip Victor Bova (who also plays bass, keyboards, strings, and Hammond organ on the album) for helping achieve the desired result, as the textured soundscapes allow the listener to drift away in the stories being told.
Sills & Smith offer us a great start to 2018 here in Ottawa, with an album that is sure to please listeners of all sorts of musical tastes. So sit back, relax, and push play below.
Maps — Burned or Lost is available on Bandcamp, iTunes, Spotify, Amazon, and CD Baby. The digipak CD edition (designed by Grace Smith) will be sold online and in select box stores by mid-January.