It’s early days yet, but Smiling With No Teeth might be the best debut album of the year. The first full-length from Canberra’s Genesis Owusu, Smiling… is a thrilling introduction.
Wildly ambitious in scope, there are moments where it snaps into industrial grooves worthy of Trent Reznor, and others where Owusu transforms into an Aussie D’Angelo. His collaboration with Kirin J Callinan, ‘Drown’, sounds like King Gizzard with Bruce Springsteen writing the hooks.
Across the record, the Ghanaian-born artist maintains the air of a bandleader, charismatically guiding listeners and musicians alike through fluid changes in style and genre. On some tracks he sings, on others he raps. Elsewhere, he delivers self-aware passages of spoken word, punctuating his verses on ‘Waitin On Ya’, for example, with gems like, “Your alarm can’t disturb you in an eternal slumber, baby.”
Owusu’s gift for bars is obvious throughout Smiling With No Teeth. The album’s title alone evokes both the tight-lipped resentment of forced pleasantries and a bloody-mouthed grin of defiance. Meanwhile, on tracks like ‘I Don’t See Colour’ and ‘Whip Cracker’, he ditches metaphor in favour of direct, sharp-tongued attacks on racists, abusers and bigots.
It’s lead single ‘The Other Black Dog’ that’s arguably Owusu’s finest moment, introducing the record’s central metaphor of the “black dog” as a symbol for the ills (mental health struggles, racism, the general chaos of the world) that haunt Owusu and serve as a constant thread through the album’s shifting styles.
A triumph from top to bottom, Smiling… sets the stage for Genesis Owusu to become a potentially generation-defining star.