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Constant Smiles

Kenneth Anger

    Over the last half decade, the music collective Constant Smiles has produced a prolific output of acclaimed music, culminating in their latest record Kenneth Anger, masterfully brought to life by engineer Jonathan Schenke (Parquet Courts, Liars, Dougie Pool). The group is known most recently for their much-praised debut album for Sacred Bones records, Paragons, an emotionally resonant offering of indie folk masterpieces that all confront the internal ways we process our struggles with intimacies, addiction and humanity - produced by Ben Greenberg.

    Constant Smiles’ primary singer/songwriter Ben Jones uses the creative process as a tool for working through a deeply transformative period in his life. The band’s indie folk music lays bare this internal process, but on Kenneth Anger, the music shifts to synth pop and looks externally, examining creativity, community, ritual, and their place in the healing process. Ritual takes a primary role in the eponymous Kenneth Anger. Not only is auteur Kenneth Anger himself known for his sensorial depictions of ritual, Jones often used the films as a silent visual backdrop during his songwriting sessions, a ritual that grounded the creation of the album. And while the director's use of saturated color inspired the warm ‘80s synth style production, the director's trailblazing spirit of authenticity also pushed Jones through his most vulnerable expression to date.

    Kenneth Anger is a collage of inspirations all funneled through the depths of reckoning into a distinctly unique synth pop tableau. Album opener "Finding Ways" uses a spiraling bass line, shimmering guitars and soft repetitive mantra-style vocals to bring the listener under the album's spell. It leads into stand-out track "In My Heart", where haunting background vocals by guitarist Lena Fjortoft and the propulsive drums of Ryan Jewell help to craft an anthem you haven't heard until you have heard it with the volume up and the wind in your hair. The album's most overtly pop song "Gold Like Water" was written about the intense feelings of panic attacks, spirals and spin outs, but also about feeling grateful for the people in your life who can help pull you out. The soothing double vocal performance by Jones and Taia and the rich cello accompaniment by Nicky Wetherall, become their own medicine.

    This illustrates one of the foundational accomplishments of the album: while the narrative undertones of the songs deal with fear and isolation and anxiety, the songs themselves were created through the healing process of ritual, and enriched with collaboration, community and trust. The resulting music produces a balm that can genuinely recalibrate the nervous system. The listener journeys through the depths of every track while being lifted and guided by the music’s transformative hypnotic power. Just as a Kenneth Anger film explores the underbelly of the unconscious through proto-ASMR visuals, Kenneth Anger the album conjures the underworld into a series of synth pop classics.


    A1. Finding Ways
    A2. In My Heart
    A3. Gold Like Water
    A4. Here And Gone
    A5. I Hope You Are Well
    A6. Emma #7
    B1. I’m On Your Side
    B2. Loaded Anger
    B3. Wandering Hours
    B4. Off Again 

    Constant Smiles


      Typically, a band’s big indie label debut doesn’t come 15 albums into its career, but with Constant Smiles’ Paragons, here we are.

      Primary songwriter and sole “constant” member Ben Jones—who considers Constant Smiles a collective—sees its impressive output as a way to document the group’s evolution. Since its live debut as a noise duo on Ben’s home of Martha’s Vineyard in 2009, Constant Smiles has grown to include contributions from 50 other members, all of whom have personal connections to the group’s extended family. And while the collective has indulged an array of musical whims along the way - including Ben’s penchant for penning a new set’s worth of material for each live performance - Constant Smiles’ sound has tightened up considerably over their past couple of albums, in large part as a result of Ben’s working relationship with Mike Mackey, who has become his main creative partner. This increased focus manifests on Paragons in the band’s most cohesive batch of songs to date, ranging from shimmering psych-pop excursions to bittersweet, piano and string-accented strummers, and an execution that feels like a massive step forward for the band.

      Through its recent forays into dream pop and shoegaze (Control) and synth-pop (John Waters), Constant Smiles has learned how to incorporate its experimental inclinations more fluidly into the mix. Artists like Yo La Tengo, and the more recent Rat Columns, are good touchstones for Constant Smiles’ musical approach - tethering to an indie-pop core while perennially mining genres, always finding new ways to intrigue listeners and pursue a unique vision


      01. Introduction
      02. Run To Stay
      03. Hope For Tomorrow
      04. The Things I Miss
      05. Learning To Start Over
      06. With Death In Mind
      07. Interlude
      08. The Weight
      09. Daisy, Table For Three
      10. Please Don’t Be Late
      11. Shame
      12. Where Am I Now?
      12. Outro

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