With a sweet vocal style blending tenderness and gut, Maryland-based singer-songwriter Darren Smith delivers an assertive sophomore album focused on commitment and independence. He employs soulful phrasing and dynamics over acoustically-driven ballads bearing subtle hints of rock and blues—making for a distinctively calm listening experience amidst the often cluttered world of commercial pop.
Save for one misguided track that relies on outdated programming and a negative lyrical stance (“I Am”), Instant Gratification satisfies via consistently reflective and melodic content with a unique voice. One of the set’s strongest numbers is “Until the End,” an engaging mid-paced tune replete with understated piano fills and guitar strumming backing up Darren’s soft testimony of weathering the storm. Later on, the pensive “Worth Fighting For” speaks to reconciling the past with a brave new face. The jazzy supporting vocals of Michael L. Gary, II, add a notable ambiance to the message.
Other standout moments on Instant Gratification include the self-sufficiency anthem, “Gone,” and the strong-minded “Be Myself Again.” The former finds Darren coming to terms with a one-sided relationship: “I blame myself, but is it true?/I’ve done all that I could do for you.” Meanwhile, “Be Myself Again” deals with the emotional aftermath of straying from inner truth: “I repent, but the feeling just won’t go away…I swear, I’m someone else/I just wanna be myself.”
The disc closes with “Forgive U,” a melancholy tune that conveys a small amount of hope through dealing with regret. The honest uncertainty channeled by the lyrics and Darren’s vulnerable performance is strikingly true to life—and an exemplary indicator of the far-reaching authenticity found throughout Instant Gratification.