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Copenhagen duo Smerz’ artistic gestation over the past few years has resulted in a hybridised style of R&B harmonies, full-throttle club beats and ornate orchestral flourish — aka one of the most original albums we heard in 2021.

Copenhagen duo Smerz’ artistic gestation over the past few years has resulted in a hybridised style of R&B harmonies, full-throttle club beats and ornate orchestral flourish. All this adds up to “Believer”, one of the most original albums we heard all 2021.

The evolutionary steps which Henriette Motzfeldt and Catharina Stoltenberg have taken since their 2017 XL debut, “Half Life”, bear fruit on some of “Believer”’s harder cuts. The title track steamrolled most listeners out the gate, and with good reason: jackhammering kicks and warehouse-ready tones are present, as you’d expect from the city which gave us the the recent fast techno resurgence, but with an undercurrent of Y2K hip-hop, the duo sidestep easy tropes. Not for nothing is one song called ‘Missy’ and another, well, ‘Rap Interlude’.

When you assume “Believer” to zig, more often than not it zags. Purposeful pauses and canned applause speckle the record, rarely allowing us to get comfortable for too long. Given Smerz’s emergence from a CPH scene which prioritises speed and endurance as a virtue, this tendency toward disruption seems like a flex. The duo thumb their noses at anything straight-ahead, but not quite enough as to tarnish the album’s core joys of drily-intoned choruses and thumping low-end. The classically-trained, internet-reared Motzfeldt and Stoltenberg evidently take pleasure in the liberation of a full-length, rather than being hemmed in by its confines.

“Believer” expertly tempers these stylistic extremes, teetering into full rave-compliance on ‘I don’t talk about that much’ one moment before blistering with white hot synths on avant slow-jammer ‘Max the next’. Sultry harmonies and droll bars are an anchor to latch onto as the experimental beats judder and warp, but just when you think you’re starting to get acclimatized, Smerz throw in a curveball like ‘The Favourite’, a striking cantata with a quietly operatic power.

What keeps us coming back time and again is the way Motzfeldt and Stoltenberg find space for moments of tenderness in the writing, offering solace in the eye of an electrical storm. They walk the listener through honest retellings of rejection (‘Remember’), inadequacy (‘Flashing’) and — in Norwegian — dancing on a glass table (‘Glassbord’). It’s a reminder of how Smerz’s prominence in the world of headsy electronic music belies their relatively green status, and how much more they have to grow and give as artists. Whatever comes next off the stylistic smörgåsbord is sure to be tantalising.

Bleep Album of the Year Exclusive

Made especially for you, XL Recordings have created an exclusive end of year edition

Lilac vinyl
Limited to 500

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