Smut's How The Light Felt & Grief In Music

We’re now deep into November, and I don’t know about you, but between the changing seasons and daylight savings, I’ve been finding a lot of solace and warmth in music. The latest release to catch my ear is from the Chicago-based band Smut, whose newest album, How the Light Felt, came out this week. Bittersweet and nostalgic, it draws influence from some 90s favourites, citing iconic names such as Gorillaz and Cocteau Twins as inspirations. It’s the band’s latest release since their 2020 EP, Power Fantasy, and secures them as a group to watch.



The album’s lead single, “After Silver Leaves,” builds up a nostalgic rock sound that both compliments and contrasts the high, sweet voice of lead singer Tay Roebuck. It’s catchy and fresh, and you wouldn’t be blamed for getting that chorus stuck in your head: “You call me by her name/But I was here first/And I was your girl.”


And despite sounding like the opener of your new favourite indie film, the song has some pretty dark themes and stands as an anthem for every teenage girl that deserves better.


“This song is about a former relationship I was in, it was really horribly abusive,” Roebuck said. “But the approach to this one was to just spell it all out and see how silly it feels once shit really hits the fan. The song sounds so happy, but I’m talking about driving someone to a hospital when they’ve overdosed. And having to detach myself and realize that maybe it’s not my job as a teenage girl to save some sad sack of a guy. I think a lot of young women will relate to that, unfortunately.”


The themes of traumatic pasts and wizened perspectives shine through in the other tracks, though not just in stories of abusive ex-partners.


“This album is very much about the death of my little sister, who committed suicide a few weeks before her high school graduation in 2017,” Roebuck said. “It was a moment in which my life was destroyed permanently, and it’s something you cannot prepare for.”


The album’s second single, “Let Me Hate,” is an intimate foray into the grief that permeates the album. Though it keeps that nostalgic rock edge, the reflective tone is not lost, and the track radiates with love and tenderness. It captures the multifaceted nature of grief: rage at the world for losing someone, gratitude that they existed at all, and the knowledge that life goes on, but it doesn’t stop hurting overnight.


“A couple weeks after the funeral we played a show and I couldn’t keep it together,” Roebuck said, “but we just kept playing and started writing because it was truly all I felt I had, it was all I could do to feel any sense of purpose. For the past five years now I’ve been chipping my way through grief and loss and I think the album itself is just the story of a person working through living with a new weight on top of it all.”


The final single, Unbroken Thought, captures the deep loneliness of loss, and that desperation for someone by your side, with its straightforward, synthy composition and Roebuck’s voice shimmering throughout the track in harmonies and echoes. Under all that beauty, though, is that cry for help from someone who’s lost so much.


The album as a whole allows itself to simultaneously hold and wade through grief, with Roenuck and Smut as a whole crafting a distinct soundscape that uplifts the songwriting and lyricism. It oscillates between powerful and driving–such as the album’s opening track, “Soft Engine,” with its screaming electric guitar riff and a steady percussive beat–and then gentler tunes, such as “Believe You Me,” which is softer and subtler, carrying Roebuck’s vocals in a sweet melody of love and loss. Smut calls the album an “exercise of coping,” and that shines through.


Despite the heavy subject matter and its nostalgic 90s soundscape, listening to How The Light Felt makes you want to lift your head up and keep going. It’s bittersweet, and it’s beautiful.


Smut is currently on tour–find tickets here. How The Light Felt is now available on all streaming platforms.