Album Review: Sorcha Richardson – Smiling Like An Idiot

[Faction; 2022]

Sorcha Richardson’s sophomore album Smiling Like An Idiot proves that 18 months of solitude in her grandparents’ house did her right. Here, the Irish songwriter masters the art of subtlety and subliminal layers of sound while formulating perfection of melody. 

Smiling Like An Idiot is, according to Richardson, “about falling in love with a person and a place, which in this case is Dublin, and how those two are interlinked.” Across 11 tracks, we follow her through the stages of relationship that we experience collectively but often do not understand. Sorcha has already become known for writing her biography through her albums, while making it relatable, sincere, always with a little humor sprinkled on top; on the album we hear her process her euphoria, her anxiety, the person she was, her doubts and more. 

Melancholic electric guitars with a folksy, almost country twang accented by slide guitars open the album in “Archie”, a song about friendship rather than love. Fear not, she sings away without mentioning those country crutch words “truck”, “beer”, or “girl,” using her lilting vocals to maintain a steady plod until her chorus enters with a cymbal crash, vocal layers, and warmth. The track becomes one of movement in her triumphant lament: “waiting on the weekend / there’s nothing for me here / so don’t you be a stranger / don’t you disappear.” 

A moody synth arpeggio opens “Shark Eyes” with an echo of Tangerine Dream. Sorcha’s sweet, innocent vocal belies her intentions; “I ain’t waiting on the outside / looking for your invite…  I’ll just say it outright, I knew it the first night.” She floats around the ups and downs of her love over bright droning synth pads and energetic drums. Collaboration with producer Alex Casnoff (Sparks, Dawes, Harriet) did not prove to be an issue across the distance: she in Dublin, he in LA, and his mark is apparent in tracks like this where he makes the bed and she builds on top.

“Spotlight Television” opens with a chorused electric guitar that reminds of Jane’s Addiction’s “Classic Girl”. Sorcha enters with a honeyed melody and ponders another love found and possibly lost; “we hold our nerve / get the love that we deserve / won’t let the signal die keep calling in the blackout / I won’t let the line go dead.” Full of dreamy harmonies, it’s a windows-open kind of tune. 

Ambient synth pads give way to arpeggiated electric guitars and shuffling drums, while Sorcha reflects on a love gone awry in “Stalemate”. Grungy guitars counterpose the acoustic strums and solo violin that raise the final choruses, an uplifting feel that almost contradicts her worries; “don’t you think you got me wrong / yeah, you might have got me wrong.” Sorcha has said she “was trying not to think too much about genre, so the references could be anything from Carole King to LCD Soundsystem” and this is apparent in “Stalemate” and the album as a whole, as so many of the tracks effortlessly cross genre.

“Purgatory” begins with the sounds of a room and sweet synth but dissolves into distorted stabs and fuzzed out guitars. Sorcha trudges through seven terraces of her love story: the tone gets a bit darker for a spell but we see again her melodic craft and lyricism. I can’t tell if her purgatory is closer to heaven or hell, but with the way she lays it out, I would take either with her. 

During her time living in her grandparents’ home, she wrote a string of tracks right after the next: “Jackpot”, “Holiday”, “Good Intentions”, and “Starlight Lounge”. The latter was released as a standalone single, while the rest appear here on Smiling Like An Idiot. As she explains: “the stakes in these songs feel high, these moments are so charged and magnetized, and I wanted the music to match that adrenaline.”

“Jackpot” is an acoustic ballad full of coffee-shop-vibing. “Holiday” lifts the levels just a bit but makes it clear the tracks were siblings in the writing process. It’s a natural sounding track, and it’s not hard to imagine lying in a room with the songwriter “playing songs on the speakers.” Any song opening with happy claps gives you the warm and fuzzies of her anthemic evolution. 

While the album’s themes could be taken as melodramatic, Sorcha’s coy lyricism lifts the album to a level of sophistication on par with her contemporaries like Phoebe Bridgers. Among the main themes on the album is the insecurity one feels in a new relationship, and Sorcha has said: “There’s a need to take a leap of faith and ask someone to take a bet on you, or to take a bet on you when you’re not sure you would bet on yourself.” This could also be an allegory for the experience of releasing an album, and Smiling Like An Idiot is absolutely one to bet on.