It’s difficult to not think about the circumstances and the journey that went into the development of Big Smoke‘s debut album, Time Is Golden.  For years, the quintet was a hidden gem limited to Melbourne and its surroundings. During this time, however, they became one of the most respected bands within the city and they finally got their break when Triple J Unearthed featured their beautiful song “Colours” in 2014.

Their sophomore EP, Lately, firmly put them on the Australian music map. The record was highlighted by the title track, which was one of our favorite songs of 2015 for its Dan Boeckner / Handsome Furs-esque qualities. But as is the case with all stories about a band about to reach new heights, tragedy hit Big Smoke.

Earlier that year, frontman and principal singer-songwriter Adrian Slattery was diagnosed with oesophageal cancer. Instead of succumbing to his illness, he and his bandmates persisted to finish their debut full-length. In addition, Slattery continued to write more music, perform with the band, and, as a result, inspire others right up to his passing in May of this year. He was the rock for so many artists, including Julia Jacklin, who dedicated her remarkable debut album to Slattery through an emotional Facebook post.

The same energy and combative spirit is heard on Time Is Golden. Slattery and Big Smoke could easily have written an album full of remorse, regret, and the oncoming final hour. These sentiments, however, aren’t part of their DNA, and they have instead given us the gift of optimism and hope. An album that celebrates life and all the obstacles it presents while paying tribute to the great genres of music – rock ‘n roll, southern rock, and alt-country.

Like life, the album acknowledges the journey and every event – big and small – that define us. The opener, “Something Good”, gives us hope that dreams can come true, including for a band like Big Smoke (there’s a not-so-subtle nod to the band). “Woman”, a Futurebirds-esque southern-rock number, reminds us about the power of love. The closer, “Honey I”, with its The War on Drugs-esque interpretation of the ’80s, is steeped in memory, as Slattery recalls all the minute traits that made us fall in love with someone.

There are also songs that just steal your imagination and even your breath. “Wrong” is fantastic interpretation of an ’80s pop-rock anthem. The crystalline guitars, the soft synths, and Slattery’s warm vocals smother you with a lush and shimmering soundscape, providing the perfect palette for this song about reconciliation. With “When You Dance”, Slattery serenades us with a tale about wanting to have one last dance. The song echoes the innovation of My Morning Jacket, as the band infuses classic rock (the melody to Springsteen’s “Hungry Heart” can be heard) with a touch of jazz as demonstrated with the superb saxophone ending.

A touch of Leonard Cohen in the storytelling can be heard on “Lean On The Fire”. Through a dark, gripping, spaghetti-Western prism, the song follows the final days of Leon Jones. The guitar work is fierce and mesmerizing. “Lay Thy Hand” is the one song where Slattery confronts and accepts his inevitable final days. The instrumentation is kept to a minimum while Slattery’s voice carries this intimate and delicate number. There is no grieving, no regrets, just the waiting of time and the acknowledgment that one has done all he can.

The two songs that define the album, though, are the companion pieces, “Best Of You” and “Time Is Golden”. The former is a love song to everyone. A message to see the beauty in everything around us and to never give up.

I won’t give up, I won’t sleep until I dead
We’re peeling back the blue skies!
That have nothing on your blue eyes.
I want nothing but the best of you!
The best of you, nothing but the best of you!

The latter, meanwhile, is essentially part two of “Best Of You”. Mostly an instrumental, the remaining members of Big Smoke extend the original song, offering a stunning, slow-building track. They end it by singing the chorus. This is their goodbye and tribute to their late frontman. It is a fitting tribute because in Slattery’s short life he brought out the best in everyone. Ask Luke Brennan, Alex O’Gorman, Tim Baker, and Joe Cope. Ask Julia Jacklin. And for everyone who listens to Time Is Golden, he and Big Smoke will leave a permanent mark with one of 2016’s most incredible achievements.

Time Is Golden is out now via Remote Control Records and Barely Dressed Records. Order it on Bandcamp, iTunes (AUS | NZ | US | UK | CAN) , and eMusic. Alternatively stream it on Spotify.

Big Smoke are Adrian Slattery, Luke Brennan, Alex O’Gorman, Tim Baker, and Joe Cope. Follow the band at:
Website | Facebook | Instagram | Twitter


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