EP Review: Turtlenecked – ‘Cherish’

Posted: by The Editor

With an Infinite Jest-featuring Photobooth selfie as a promo picture, a serfdom-core haircut, and a gangly, monochrome clad disposition, Harrison Patrick Smith burst onto the indie scene in the mid-2010s boldly towing the line between house show bad boy and wipeyadocsoff starter pack. But while Smith’s demeanor was abrasively intellectual, his gripping songwriting under the moniker Turtlenecked immediately set him apart from other Bandcamp bedroom musicians. Armed with a blood curdling scream and a knack for merging the sensibilities of Television and The Microphones, Turtlenecked quickly proved itself to be a project with as much talent as it had personality. Nostalgia and emulation have always been at the core of Turtlenecked’s sound, but Smith’s latest EP, Cherish, uses blocky chords, sunny riffs, and soaring melodies to largely veer away from his occasional tendency to play like a cover musician’s first foray into soundalike songwriting. It’s the first time Turtlenecked feels more like Turtlenecked than one of the project’s forebears.

Cherish is Smith’s second record released after a move to New York City. Turtlenecked’s early releases came to life while Smith was attending liberal arts school in Portland, Oregon, and the forest city’s twee influences shone through even the most hard rocking moments on records like Vulture and High Scores Of The Heart. Although Smith’s attitude was that of a leather clad lothario selling loosies in a Hell’s Kitchen alley, his lyricism always managed to feel like the sophomoric notebook scribbling of a student who showed up drunk to English night class.

Turtlenecked’s first release of 2020, Kapow!, saw Smith embrace the legacies and attitudes of his newfound by-the-Hudson home. With its talk vocals, pulsing basses, and fuzzed-the-fuck-out guitar solos, the record played like Andrew Lloyd Webber adapted the LCD Soundsystem documentary Shut Up And Play The Hits into a Broadway musical and cast Porches’ Aaron Maine to play the lead. While Kapow! was a stylish, energetic departure from West Coast indie pop, Cherish benefits from the fact that its geographic influences are less immediately placable.

The EP opens with a simple acoustic riff on the track “Mary,” which sounds like your uncle’s six-Tecate-deep strumming at the family beach getaway. But while the chipper adlibs in its oddly approachable intro may be baffling, the track quickly kicks on the overdrive to showcase high school anthem riffing that plays like an upbeat cut from the Twilight soundtrack. With its constant dynamic fluctuations and steady mid tempo groove, it’s one of the best Turtlenecked tracks to date. “Nowhere” channels The Pains Of Being Pure At Heart with a played-on-the-rim drum beat and descending dream pop guitar lead. However, right as the track veers into “type beat” territory, it falls apart in the ether with unexpected half time jamming. Harrison Patrick Smith’s best feature as a songwriter is his ability to effortlessly take his songs in countless melodic directions in just a few minutes, and “Nowhere” sees that tendency at its finest. “Century” finds Smith returning to his basement scene roots as a Hamilton Leithauser-y bellow tops an instrumental driven by drums mashing the downbeat. It’s the most genuinely punk rock Turtlenecked has ever felt, and, although it came to life in the studio, the track captures the energy of a stellar live performance.

Cherish may be one of Turtlenecked’s best releases so far, but it sometimes suffers from a newfound sense of homogeneity. “When You’re Grown” is a bit too similar to the two tracks that came before it, and, even with its pretty melodies, “The Replacements” reinforces that Cherish is ultimately a collection of medium paced rock songs. While Smith’s artistic inclinations are the most singular they’ve ever been, Cherish hones in on one feel and rarely deviates from it. The EP’s best moments are its most adventurous, and Cherish’s middle section falls flat as it settles into an analogous sound.

Ultimately, though, on Cherish, Smith’s chops as a songwriter and producer effortlessly blend to form a collection of tracks that pack the punch of a full-length record in just over 20 minutes. Still barely out of adolescence, Harrison Patrick Smith is one of the hardest working up-and-comers in indie rock. He’s drummed on records by Boreen, mixed records by Strange Ranger, and recorded a KEXP session, all before the age of 25. Cherish may have been released as a victory lap following Kapow!, but the EP is one of Turtlenecked’s greatest triumphs yet.

Disappointing / Average/ Good / Great / Phenomenal

Ted Davis | @tddvsss

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