WATGB review Zara Smile’s debut EP ‘Smile’

Zara Smile is a Liverpool-based musician creating indie-folk-pop infused with personal storytelling. From views on social media to their identity as a mixed-race Queer person, Zara
uses songwriting as a form of both expression and exploration. ‘Smile’, their debut EP is no exception.

With thumping drums and the strumming of guitar ‘Misplaced’ welcomes you into an EP that feels as warm and complex as a teenage bedroom. You can imagine posters on the wall,
long socks under flannel pyjamas and diary pages spiralling out words of confession and confusion as the song unfurls. The track is both summery and melancholy, feeling at home in any 90s coming of age film but providing the Queer-lens that is so often missing from those pieces of nostalgia. The track discusses self-discovery, feelings of displacement and the pressure to put yourself in a neat little box. The words “she is dead, they are free” reach through and offer catharsis from the all too familiar restraints described throughout the track. As we enter pride season, ‘Misplaced’ feels like a space of solace, a hand offered to anyone navigating dysphoria and gender-identity, a guide throughout the journey like a chosen older sibling whose experiences help shape and comfort your own.

With a sweetly candid spoken interlude, we find ourselves in ‘Twisted Truths’. Lamenting on the political climate accompanied by the softest of harmonies and comforting instrumentation. There is something of a sun flare to each of these tracks, like the last of the day disappearing behind the skyline leaving the faintest glimpse of orange, and I wonder if that’s due to the reflective nature of the subject matter. While there is anger and distress embedded within the lyrics, their delivery comes from a place of reluctant acknowledgment, like seeing the light disappearing and being left in the afterglow with only yourself to process the loss.

It’s only as ‘Puppet’ fades in that we hear a more direct frustration through the melodic delivery. With a catchy hook and an upbeat tempo this track takes the summery tone of the
EP up a notch. Zara’s lyrics reflect on a toxic relationship, recounting the trials and tribulations, heading back and forth within feelings and thoughts. Like a letter scrawled in the passion of the moment, indecisive and passionate but all too real, this track is an ode to the complexities of difficult love.

‘Home’ drifts into the EP like the gradual descent of raindrops on the window. Guitar scatters, bass ebbs and flows, and percussion builds like the slow evolution of grey clouds into a storm. Zara’s vocals are awash with emotion, a mist somewhere between the depths of loneliness and the peaks of desperation. Of all the tracks, this one feels the most direct in its address, a song sent in a bottle or wished on a star set to music that feels part of the same aching gloom.

‘Happy’, the final track of the EP is Zara’s confronting of social media and the challenges and barriers it forms. Cleverly crafted, the lyrics of this track are poetic and knowing.

The thematic exploration of duality throughout the EP gives the EP’s title of ‘smile’ a double-edged feeling. We may be smiling, but why, and what is the truth behind the mask we present. As with each of the tracks this one is beautifully produced, catchy and sang with Zara’s distinct mellow tone that provides a sense of comfort throughout despite its challenging themes.

Having witnessed Zara’s development so far, from taking the stage at one of our ‘All in the Same Boat’ events performing cover songs and seeing the audience responding to their shy charisma to releasing this skilfully produced and beautifully rich EP, I am incredibly excited to see what the future holds.

You can listen to Zara’s debut EP ‘Happy’ across streaming platforms and follow what they’re up to via socials @zarasm1le