The idea of criticising something as “pretentious” is an inherently flawed one, often simply being used as a derogatory version of “ambitious”. However, in the case of the debut album from T.O.L.D., it’s by far the easiest descriptor for what’s wrong with the album. Daniel Smith’s debut EP, Heaven combined serious themes about spirituality with music that split the difference between Jamie xx and Kygo, melding house beats with steel-pan drums, and reverberated guitars. It was an interesting aesthetic, but it got bogged down in self-seriousness, which felt like a poor fit for the music. It’s Not About The Witches doubles down on these qualities, whilst diversifying the sounds in Smith’s repertoire.
Smith expands on the sonic language of his debut EP, such as in opening track The Fool. The first minute is comprised of subtle drums and sombre piano, and sounds as though it could come from a 40-produced Drake track. However, the track then explodes into a distorted, hazy soundscape that evokes maximalist artists like Rustie. It feels much more sonically interesting than his debut, even if it’s somewhat derivative. 2 Young introduces elements of gospel to the album, enhancing the themes of spirituality. However, they don’t meld well with the beat, or the vocoded lead vocals, and the track comes across as somewhat cluttered.
This feeling of clutter applies to the album as a whole, too. Much of the album exists in the same gospel-infused place as 2 Young, so more tropical tracks like Lucifer’s Eyes feel out of place. In addition, in spite of the ambitious themes, it’s often difficult to deduce exactly what Smith is singing about. In Lucifer’s Eyes, he sings “I sleep with no voice and wake with no name / that’s just a noise the devil did make”. He fills the songs with expressive imagery (although the “devil” metaphor quickly grows tiresome), but the lyrics feel overdone, as though he substitutes flashy concepts for actual feeling. It’s Not About The Witches is an ambitious album, but it just can’t help but collapse under its own weight.