Benjamin Francis Leftwich may only have one trick up his sleeve, but it’s a successful one. He exhibits an unwavering devotion to low-tempo acoustic numbers; even his covers, which have generated a fair amount of blogosphere buzz, have transformed songs like Arcade Fire’s pulsing “Rebellion (Lies)” into quiet contemplations. Those looking for energetic folk romps à la Mumford & Sons will not find any on the York singer’s debut, Last Smoke Before the Snowstorm, but they will find an enchanting set of low-key tunes. The album is understated and heartfelt, a cohesive collection that fits very well in the world of earnest, breathy folk.
Last Smoke continues in the vein of his previous EPs: it is atmospheric, thoughtful, and mesmerizing. While Leftwich doesn’t veer much from his standard formula, these ten lovely tracks prove that it suits him just fine. His airy tone glides over each song and lets listeners pull out the nuances—a violin here, a vocal harmony there. Every dynamic shift is softer than those you’d find from James Vincent McMorrow or Ben Howard, but the quiet surroundings make them all the more pronounced. The slight rises on songs like “Box of Stones” and “Shine”, or the instrumental solos on “1904” and “Stole You Away”, are affecting without breaking the record’s gentle lull.
Admittedly, it’s probably best that Last Smoke clocks in at just over half an hour; as it is, the album is just on the brink of feeling like too much of the same. Each song still maintains its distinctiveness, and those from earlier releases (“Atlas Hands”, “Pictures”) were perfect selections from previous works. Indeed, placing Last Smoke alongside his other EPs illustrates that the 21-year-old songwriter has already matured, already begun to develop a slightly more complex sound. While this debut showcases his grasp of slow sensitivity, I do hope that Leftwich’s future works will reveal other facets of his captivating style. For now, Last Smoke Before the Snowstorm is an excellent introduction to a promising up-and-comer.