On the tail end of a pandemic that stunted artistic production around the globe, the sentiment chosen to open Future Crib’s Full Time Smile may seem at first listen a bit untimely. “Happiness is going out of style / pretend you are miserable for a while,” croons multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Johnny Hopson as keys and synths swish into a lush, blissful crescendo.
For the five-piece Nashville-based band, happiness isn’t so much passé as it is a process, or the end result of a transitional and sometimes tumultuous period. As drummer and vocalist Noah Pope puts it, the record's central theme revolves around “recontextualizing” the parts of life that are less than pleasant. “It’s about searching and having the guts and strength to move on and explore new territory,” Pope adds.
Recorded in the outskirts of Atlanta in December 2020, the band gave themselves the self-imposed limitation to record Full Time Smile in the span of a week. While challenging, the method of building a makeshift studio with analog gear was a testament to the friendship that undergirds how Future Crib operates on the regular. “We were in a state of being open and communicative about where we were in our lives and I think that comes off in the record,” says bassist and vocalist Julia Anderson. “We all weighed in because these songs were important to all of us.”
Whereas the band’s second LP, Silverdays, was, in the words of multi-instrumentalist Bryce DuBray’s words, “a reimagining” and a “polishing up” of previously-produced demos, Full Time Smile is a more carefully-crafted affair, a concerted effort to reflect the band in the most accurate way possible. It’s the first record by the band that features contributions of guitarist and vocalist George Rezek, who joined the group in a full-time capacity after filling in for Pope on a series of dates in 2019.
This “retreat” approach to making the record took the already-established bonds within the band to new levels. “When you make a record at home, it’s going to be pretty predictable,” says Hopson. Though bands are rarely a democracy, Future Crib sought to develop Full Time Smile without any particular member having absolute authority over a song’s final form. Blending electronic or synthesized instrumentation with organic sounds gives the album a balance so rarely found in even the most modern of releases.
Indeed, the band made a point to put egos aside during the production and craft something that transcended any one member’s preferences. “We decided to stay away from doing anything that would make the record sound like any particular band or influence,” says Hopson. “We were making all of the choices that were best for each song. The influences come no matter what.”
Though there was a conscious effort to avoid sounding like anything in particular, the result draws on a range of influential artists that dominated rock clubs and college radio in the '90s and early aughts. It comes as no surprise then, this alt-pop masterpiece dares to be embraced by fans of Built To Spill, Modest Mouse, Dr. Dog, and other acts of their ilk.
“We all really enjoy listening to records front-to-back,” says Pope. “We put a lot of effort into arrangements and how songs flow.” Though dynamic, the album retains an obvious cohesion that is owed to the band’s reliance on self-recording and making a point to avoid more traditional studio setups. “There’s a lot going on and a lot of room for error, but we trust each other with sounds and creative decisions because we know that ultimately we will do what’s best for the song,” adds Hopson.
The album’s lead single, “Most Likely Never Going To Die,” is an aptly-named earworm that is representative of the band’s penchant for writing indelible melodies with punchy guitar licks that will surely resonate with fans of the aforementioned acts. Hopson is at his best when he waxes philosophical about what constitutes the good life without coming off as pretentious.
On “Horses,” “Leaves,” and less-rollicking numbers, the tempos may slow down considerably, but the emotional weight and maturity remains. While these songs may be closer in presentation to the outsider art of Bill Callahan and Daniel Johnston than radio-rock, they’re no less effective. The record’s title track also trades raucous sing-alongs for a reflection on how to find happiness in spite of ever-present struggle.
Despite its ecstatic moments and joyful performances throughout, Future Crib exercise a stunning amount of humility on Full Time Smile -- perhaps most especially on the record’s closing track, “Forever Ain’t A Long Time And We Still Have A Lot To Do.” As Hopson sings, “We’re kidding ourselves if we ask for a three-minute rocker to last forever.” With songs as crafty as those found on Full Time Smile, though, it’s very possible that these three-minute rockers may stick around for quite a long time.