Some of the most exciting pop music out now can be found right at the intersection of R&B and electronic music. In the last few years, artists like FKA twigs, James Blake and Frank Ocean have achieved critical acclaim through blurring the lines between those two genres. In their wake, countless other musicians are doing the same, opening up a whole new movement of music that isn’t exactly made for the dance floor, but sure as hell sounds like it.
Smerz are the newest exciting development of this movement. The Norwegian duo burst onto the scene a year or two ago, earning praise for their debut EP Okey and citing DJ Rashad and Jamie xx as influences. Their new EP, Have fun, builds on their brand of scatterbrained, techno-influenced pop by intensifying the bass and static; these songs are often submerged in grainy layers of ambient noise. While it’s not the most accessible release, Have fun manages to live up to its title. Smerz have a lot of growing to do, but they clearly have plenty of imagination and talent, and it’s visible on this EP.
This EP is a strange beast. Throw on the first track, “Worth It,” and you’re immediately confronted with a grinding bass loop that sounds like the engine of some alien spaceship. It’s a jarringly grimy start to an already grimy project, something that feels like the aural equivalent of a slap in the face. Smerz weren’t going to wait around to test your sensibilities; from the first seconds of Have fun it’s clear that this EP is not going to be a conventionally easy listen.
However you might react to the first seconds of the EP, it’s important to have faith. Listening to Have fun is a little bit like the process of acclimatizing to a higher altitude, the longer it goes on, the more you start to feel normal, even comfortable. The somnambulist groove of “No harm” is a little easier to settle into; by the time “Oh my my” comes around, you’re sort of able to move your head to the song’s restless, smoky rhythms.
Have fun certainly suffers a little bit from its own ambitions. It’s clear that in making this EP, Smerz wanted to give off a dark, anonymous kind of impression, from the undersaturated artwork all the way to how the songs bleed sleepily into each other. It definitely achieves that effect, but there are obvious downsides to removing the salience from your music. For one, barely any of the tunes on this record are memorable; three or four listens into Have fun, I still struggle to recall a single interesting melody. What’s more, the lyrics are almost always unintelligible, and any danceable rhythms are either smothered by static or quickly snuffed out thanks to the songs’ short runtimes. Have fun does a good enough job of uniting pop and techno, but fails pretty miserably at making an accessible record.
That said, there are plenty of merits to Smerz’s music, and there are plenty of reasons you might want to pick up Have fun even if techno isn’t your thing. This EP sort of functions as a sleepy placeholder, a 24-minute slab of percussive pop music that might not sear itself into your memory, but at least holds your attention for those 24 minutes. Additionally, plenty of these songs are fairly innovative pop experiments that could be worthy listening challenges. Just listen to the sped-up vocals at the end of “Worth It,” or the unexpectedly pretty swell of synths during the transition between “Fitness” and “Bail on me.” Smerz might not be your cup of tea, and Have fun is a dense and dark affair, but it’s too interesting of a project to not try.
You can contact CU Independent writer Owen Zoll at Owen.Zoll@colorado.edu