Nobody would bat an eyelid if she were called up to be the fourth member of boygenius
Orla Foster
00:00 22nd September 2022

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Sorcha Richardson's world is one of glitchy jukeboxes, stolen glances in dive bars, and beating yourself up about how you might have done summer camp differently if you'd only known yourself a little better. It's a landscape so well-drawn you feel you could navigate it with her, and sophomore release Smiling Like An Idiot invites you to do just that.

Based in Dublin, Richardson is known for her penetrating eye for detail, forlorn cadence, and the sparse production allowing emotion to buckle beneath its surface. Like 2019's First Prize Bravery there are soul-baring, confessional lyrics and wry asides, bruisingly bittersweet narratives and the occasional lofty chorus. Nobody would bat an eyelid if she were called up to be the fourth member of boygenius.

This newest offering leads us on a late night walk through Richardson's life, from millennium-era house parties to Brooklyn sidewalks, right through to finding peace in her own rain-soaked hometown. Opener 'Archie' pinpoints a sense of youthful restlessness, of being a teen misfit passing her time "making posters, trying to start a band" while friends disappear in all directions. Richardson grew up in Dalkey, a Dublin resort better renowned for fancy knitwear and soft-top cars than its music scene, so it's little wonder she needed a lifeline.

As it happens, she did make it out – all the way to the US, where she lived for most of a decade, studying creative writing and forcing herself to play open mic nights in secret. In the Richardson songbook, references to coyotes and deserts sit cosily alongside Dublin pubs and cathedrals, her lyrics flitting between remembered haunts and the tiny, intimate gestures that happen within their walls. There's a transatlantic longing, a kind of mid-flight malaise, that colours this record, whether she's crossing statelines or ambling along the quays of the Liffey. 

Second single 'Shark Eyes' is about the flipside of infatuation, adoring someone who is "all talk"; a "New York dream" that she knows she will ultimately wake up from. "It’s about following your darker and more destructive impulses and allowing yourself to be taken for a bit of a ride," she has said. 'Hard to Fake It' echoes this theme of one-way devotion: "Maybe you could love me back /But I know there's no guarantees". She could have said the same of America, whose early embrace finally gave way to health insurance anxieties and insurmountable visa paperwork, as it does for so many people. 'Good Intentions' paints a bittersweet farewell to the city that never sleeps, picturing herself at nineteen, insomnia-riddled on the Bowery. There is a lot of misty-eyed reflection here. At times the songs are so nostalgia-driven, they teeter towards maudlin. When 'Purgatory' descends into its sustained refrain of "We could be so unhappy", things start to weigh a little heavily: another dark night of the soul with Sorcha when you'd rather she had you toasting marshmallows around a campfire. Then again, condemning a record for being too melancholy is hardly any better than lurking on a street corner telling young women to smile, so we'll have less of that. 

As for Richardson, for all the time she spends painstakingly recreating moments from deep within her psyche, she can also exist in the here-and-now. The title track, which closes the record, is not the self-deprecating put-down you might expect, but instead describes joyfully surrendering yourself to the company of those you love. It's a suitably life-affirming moment to finish on, with its tales of belting out karaoke alongside "favourite people" and sun flooding into bedroom windows making you glad to be alive. Well, at least until the producer guffaws, "That was awful!" This, too, seems a fitting sign-off from an artist steeped in caution, who exercises a deeply romantic vision of the world without ever quite losing her analytical bent. Elation countered by dread.

Smiling Like an Idiot arrives 23 September via Faction Records.

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Photo: Press