One of music’s great mysteries — and welcome superpowers — is the ability to simultaneously express happiness and sadness. Music can meticulously catalogue anxiety, celebrate joy, and inhabit all the nebulous grey areas in between like no other art form on earth. Sorcha Richardson’s second album, Smiling Like an Idiot, is a perfect example.
The Dalkey singer’s debut, First Time Bravery, arrived in 2019. A global pandemic and a move from New York back home to Ireland later and she is unveiling a remarkably accomplished follow-up and a superior album in almost every way. The soundscape and production is gorgeous, effortlessly making Smiling Like an Idiot sound like a record from a well-seasoned and long-established artist.
Affectionate references to Dublin are peppered throughout, such as the Lord Edward pub on the title track. Smiling Like an Idiot is much stronger lyrically as well as musically. “I met a boy called Archie we were 17,” is the album’s arresting opening line. “He took me to a party by the cemetery/ Money in the jukebox/ Waited for our song/ But we were in the garden/ When Britney came on.”
But the true love Archie is searching for is to be found in music rather than a conventional teenage relationship. The song boasts a knockout chorus about making posters and trying to start a band, nailing all the infectious enthusiasm of youthful creativity and the naive innocence it comes wrapped up in.
Smiling Like an Idiot also explores the tentative anxieties and worries of embarking on a brand new relationship, beautifully summed up in Good Intentions. “And you were spinning but I was standing still,” Richardson sings. “If I tell you that I love you or would that be overkill?”
Written on guitar and piano in her late grandparents’ house in Dublin during lockdown, there’s a lovely intimacy and cosiness to Smiling Like an Idiot that makes it a very easy album to get lost in. This is perhaps partially due to the album’s remote production, as Alex Casnoff was based in Los Angeles while Richardson Zoomed in from Dublin.
There is an endearing sparseness to the arrangements. Nothing is overcooked or overdone, as Richardson’s grasp of putting together sharp alt-pop songs recalls Juliana Hatfield meeting the comforting melancholy of The National.
Smiling Like an Idiot lays down a marker for a promising career that is beginning to take flight with a vengeance after the world stalled for a while. It picks up where First Time Bravery left off, but takes the listener somewhere completely different, delivering a beguiling and bittersweet album from one of this country’s finest new emergent musicians.