Hand Aaron Smith a guitar, and the supension of disbelief required to enjoy musical theater disappears. The man seems to live in a universe where melody is the medium that people breathe and everything can be rendered song—a two-minute pop ditty that will stick in your head all day. Which makes three-plus years a long time to wait for a new set of songs from the former Metroland Best Male Songwriter. Our Levitation Nights is the inevitable product of this wait, released under the auspices of Smith’s band Scientific Maps even though he tracked all the instruments himself.
“I make all the sounds,” he told me. “No labels are showing interest,” he jested. Which is to say, Smith makes pop songs for the sake of making pop songs. He likely can’t help it. The notes on the Bandcamp page where he released the new record (scientificmaps.bandcamp.com) says the songs were recorded “on mostly broken equipment in a mostly broken state.” It’s a lo-fi mood suitable to the lo-fi production. Even though most of the instruments and vocals were tracked through the internal microphone of his Macbook Pro, Troy Pohl was able to polish the material into a cohesive little six-track record—a format somewhere between EP and LP. And it’s not nearly the downer you might be assuming. Smith’s melodic sensibilities harken back to the doo-wop roots of ’60s pop, where even the most forlorn lyric can be carmelized with three-part harmony. “It’s not going to happen like you want/Sorry but it’s not,” he croons with cloned backing vocalists of the regrets of breakup on “The Worst Will Have to Do.” It’s impossible not to bob your head along gingerly within that cognitive dissonance that great emotion-plumbing music creates.
In other places, the sentiment is wrapped in more humorous dressings. “Would you survive?” he asks on “Every Mummy in Every Museum,” on a night they all came to life. “I know that they’re not coming after me” is his solace.
Closer “A Cellarful of Stars” is the album epic at 2:46. If some of Our Levitation Nights feels dashed off, this one’s proof of how efficient Smith has become as a songwriter, taking the listener on the full sonic ride to catharsis in the time it takes to make toast.