Recommended Tracks: “I Promise To Ruin Your Life”, “What The Hell”, “Daylight”
Artists You May Like: Eliza & the Delusionals, Olivia Rodrigo, Maisie Peters
We place so much value in a smile. Have you ever thought about it? For pictures, we want everyone to smile. If someone is sad, we want that person to be happy. There is pressure to “turn that frown upside-down” or to “smile through it,” but why? Why do we have to mask our true feelings with a smile? This is a question that Best Ex tries to answer on her debut album, With a Smile. Sharing moments that brought her comfort or confusion or pain, Best Ex (also known as Mariel Loveland, formerly of Candy Hearts) shatters that illusion of effortless positivity and optimism, speaking to those out there who know that going through life “with a smile” is not realistic.
Portions of With a Smile accentuate the anxieties and the pressures of being a young adult in the modern world. The opening track, which is also the title track, captures the notion of fake smiling. We have all had those moments when we had to fake a smile to get through the day or cover up some inner turmoil. Over the twinkling production of the track, Best Ex reveals that she relates to the wilted flowers that she forgot to water, that she tends to lose her temper, and that the radiator in her place is actually out to get her. In the end, though, she smiles and acts like everything is fine. Elsewhere, tracks like “What The Hell” and “The End” tell us what is really going on, as Best Ex sings, “Tomorrow, things will be easier / I tell myself / But the weight of everything just gets heavier and heavier and heavier” on the former and “I know the world isn’t ending / Sometimes it feels like it” on the latter. Between all the details of dirty laundry hiding in her room, the student loan letters coming in through the mail, and the screaming inside her head, we get why she feels so defeated.
Still, Best Ex has accepted who she is and what she needs. On “Tell Your Friends,” she walks us through the times when she was there for somebody, when she did what she could to make things work. When things fell apart, though, she was fine with coming across as the bad guy, singing, “So you can tell your friends I’m crazy / I think that they already hate me.” She owns who she is, as she does on “Salt On Skin,” hinting that she cannot be torn down so quickly. The summery vibes we get through the guitar strums, the innocent drum beats, and Best Ex’s gentle vocals instills a sense of perseverance, especially in the lines, “Baby, I’m known for my mistakes / Holding up the cracks of my heartbreak / But something’s telling me that this time, things have changed.” But even though her wounds have become “dull enough to cover up,” Best Ex still needs an occasional time out to collect herself. With “Give Me a Break,” she insists, “Give me a break / I’m just too tired of trying to scream,” not asking anything in return.
While she has a grasp on her own thoughts and actions, Best Ex can still be swayed by those around her. With “Die For You” and “Cut Me Out,” we understand just how deep her feelings can go for others. She calls out someone who used her on “Die For You,” singing, “You’re making money off my demons” and “They don’t see the things you do.” She is truly frustrated with this person, feeling guilty for ever thinking that she would have died in their place. This similar sensation occurs again on “Cut Me Out,” as she watches a friend move on. The forward-moving beats and moody melodies try to offset the emotional lyrics, but the hold is as strong as ever, just like Best Ex’s connection with this friend. She admits, “I would tell you that I miss you / But you don’t deserve that.” Luckily, she has other people in her life that lift her spirits, as we hear on “Joyride (Glad You Found Me).” Before she met her husband, Best Ex was cynical towards love and soul mates. She can still be a bit wary of love and the way it works, but she believes that she was destined to meet her husband, which comes through in the cosmic, drifting-through-the-universe production.
The album closes with “Daylight,” which is a solid recap of the themes we have heard from song to song. Throughout the track, Best Ex paints dim images of broken glass, pushing people away, and walking home by herself. On those lonely walks, though, she has time to think about the difference between night and day and the way that “nothing looks as pretty in the daylight.” It makes her wonder, “Will you still love me in the daylight?” The song rolls up the topics previously heard, like inner anxieties, her tendencies, the way she relates to others, and gives them to us in one final offering. It also gives us one last chance to smile from the warmth of the music or shake our heads and smile in disbelief as we relate to the lyrics. Overall, Best Ex has revolutionized the act of a smile on With a Smile, and there is no telling what else she will revolutionize next.
You can listen to With a Smile on platforms like Spotify, Apple Music, or SoundCloud.