LISTENING TO Turtlenecked’s newest release, Swish, I initially made the mistake of thinking of the EP as one cohesive unit. How ignorant of me to expect anything traditional from Harrison Smith, the screaming creature behind the music. The record is a genre-spanning sampler of the 20-year-old Smith’s oddly multifaceted talent. The first half of Swish is very different from the second, but this inconsistency gives us a full tour of Smith’s musical wheelhouse.
The first two tracks, “Gallows” and “Olivia,” are beautifully constructed, digestible proto-pop songs. The third track, “In Which You Become the Walls,” is an ambient soundscape that’d be right at home on Animal Collective’s Merriweather Post Pavilion. Once listeners have relaxed into Swish, Smith reaches a crossroads, shocking us back to attention with “Abscond,” his dark and jarring screamo aria. This marks the end of the album’s first half and, for the remainder of the EP, the end of Turtlenecked.
The rest of Swish contains tracks by DJ Venmo, Smith’s other musical alias. The contrast between “Abscond” and the first Venmo song, “It’s Lit,” is visually represented on the album cover: Smith hangs from a basketball hoop wearing a bright, pastel jacket and peering into the camera as an ominous storm cloud looms behind. Although united by creator, the angst and emotions of the album’s opening songs are totally absent from the final tracks.
On Turtlenecked’s previous releases, Smith explored auditory discontent; April’s Pure Plush Bone Cage is a wonderfully lo-fi art-punk record that highlights his most unique and powerful traits, pairing anxious, screaming indie vocals with gentle synth-harp compositions. DJ Venmo is a newer, more lighthearted venture—this project swings away from the emotive Turtlenecked for what I hope is only a temporary artistic diversion.
DJ Venmo offers danceable and impressively arranged club fare, once again proving that Smith’s musical competence transcends genre. The cloud-rap vocals are pleasant, the lyrics clever and funny. But as DJ Venmo, Smith doesn’t access the same kind of multidimensional artistry that makes Turtlenecked tracks so fun to indulge in.
In the case of Swish, abstaining from genre continuity is more of a punk statement than a lack of production smarts. Jean-Paul Sartre—philosopher, art-bro hero, and now DJ Venmo lyrical inspiration (on “I Know U from the Internet,” he raps, “existential like Sartre, feeling so lonely immersed in my beats”)—once said, “Man is condemned to be free; because once thrown into the world, he is responsible for everything he does.” Smith takes full ownership of his erratic creations, but refuses to be condemned by freedom of choice.