Review: Sam Smith, ‘Nirvana EP’


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Sam Smith’s Nirvana EP serves as a sound preview of his upcoming debut album 

Sam Smith • Nirvana EP • Capitol US Release Date: January 28, 2014

Every year there are a number of new artists looking for their breakthrough.  Sadly, only a few hopefuls have their dreams realized.  Sam Smith is the latest newbie who looks to break through.  One of several standout British soul/pop artists, Smith definitely has the pipes to shine and deserves success to knock on his door.   Whether or not his commercial aspirations actually come to fruition, critically, Smith is already there; he’s surpassed the test.  Nirvana EP is Smith’s springboard, and even at just seven songs, it’s a pretty good springboard at that.

Nirvana EP opens with the experimental R&B track, “Safe With Me”.  The track is characterized by its highly rhythmic, pummeling drums and its overall mysteriousness.   Vocally, Smith sounds exceptional, delivering a nuanced, complete performance.   The refrain finds those soulful vocals transformed through vocal effects – specifically pitch effects. “Don’t you know your secret’s safe with me / all your worries can be put to, can be put to sleep,” Smith sings on the refrain.  Regardless of the experimentation, the identity of the track is steeped in R&B while having crossover abilities.

Title track “Nirvana” very much embraces R&B in its lush production and lyrical content.   Essentially, Smith can’t get over a past flame, and has decided to stop running from his feelings so to speak.  “Its too late to run away from it all,” sings Smith on the pre-chorus before eventually giving in, “I’m done with running so I give it to you.”  He goes on to pour emotion on the cleverly penned chorus, where he believes his ‘heaven’ (Nirvana) is too good to be true: “This moment has caused a reaction / resulting in a reattachment / girl, you take me to Nirvana / I don’t think this will last / cause you’re here in my arms.”  Deep and thoughtful, “Nirvana” is a second straight knockout punch for Nirvana EP.

I’ve Told You Now” (Live at St. Pancras Old Church, London) continues to find the British singer flexing his pipes, particularly on the hard-hitting chorus.  Accompanied by piano, guitar, and strings, Smith’s performance is highly inspired.  It may not match the more liberal “Safe With Me” or the clever “Nirvana”, but “I’ve Told You Now” continues to show the newbie at his best.  On “Latch”, Smith’s former collaboration with Disclosure, the production is set in a beautiful acoustic setting.  Unsurprisingly, Smith continues to perform at a high level vocally.

Three more tracks conclude the overall sound EP.  The electronic funk of “Together” is fueled by Disclosure, making Smith sound something of a contemporary D’Angelo, falsetto and background vocals intact.  “Money On My Mind”, Smith’s ‘ace in the hole’ follows compellingly, even if the notable British hit doesn’t necessarily supersede a stacked opening duo.  A remix of “Nirvana(Harry Fraud Remix)” is the final statement and it is definitely a ‘fresh’ one.

All in all, Sam Smith sets his career up soundly on this introductory EP.  Vocally, Smith joins a talented class of British vocalists in 2014: John Newman (Tribute) and Daley (Days & Nights).  Smith more than holds his own in such elite company, making him one of the artists to watch closely this year.  Nirvana EP receives my blessings for sure.

Favorites:

“Safe With Me”; “Nirvana”; “Together”

Verdict: ★★★★

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