Kleenex Girl Wonder return with new track “Practical Effects” and announce their upcoming album Vana Mundi (Reesonable Records).
Kleenex Girl Wonder’s Vana Mundi is a gloriously melodic dive into the deep alienation of contemporary life, with lyrics so simply profound that they have to be heard in order to be felt. It’s the most wondrous, hopeful album of Graham Smith’s career, and it feels absolutely necessary that everyone hear it.
It will also improve your vocabulary. Here’s a list of just some of the words on the album that you didn’t learn in high school: anechoic, profligate, elided, ultimata, opaline, convolve, dramaturge, cenotaph, heuristic. The lyric sheet’s word count comes in at just over 4,000. You might say Smith missed his true calling as a short story writer, or playwright, except his songs are so goddamned catchy.
In Latin, the album’s title means ‘Empty World.’ In Esperanto, the title means ‘Vain World,’ vain as in wasted effort, or the inflated ego — all is vanity. Either way, Smith knows all about emptiness, wasted effort, and inflated egos. The album is an attempt to come to try and understand those qualities as they exist within himself and those around him. And so Vana Mundi ends up tracing a journey, from a frustrated cynic trapped by their own psychic ice/isolation to someone reaching out to offer understanding and something not unlike love for their fellow humans. For maybe the first time in his long career, Smith is more interested in helping the ‘you’ in his songs than scoring points off them.
And so if Graham Smith is the David Foster Wallace of power-pop (and based on his prodigiousness, his hyper-verbosity, his seemingly off-the-cuff genius that isn’t actually off-the-cuff at all but deeply rooted in feelings of insecurity & depression, the comparison makes sense) then Vana Mundi is his This Is Water. It’s where Smith plunges deeper into his cynicism and despondency than he ever has before, and emerges out the other side with some deep truth. In the album’s closing number ‘Picture the Kid’, he urges the listener to not be afraid to gaze into the abyss because ‘if you stare it in the face and embrace the pain / the mistakes that you made and the things that you did / will disintegrate in the wind.’ This is hard-earned wisdom, and for all of Smith’s career-long brilliance, it hits harder, and goes deeper, than anything he’s ever done.
So the takeaway is not that Graham Smith is smarter or more clever than we are. It’s that there’s a strong case to be made that he is among the best songwriters of the past 20 years and still improving. Everything he’s written has been melodic, memorable, and heart-rending, carrying a lyrical brilliance that few of his peers have ever touched — and yet, Vana Mundi is a revelation. To put it simply, never in their long existence have Kleenex Girl Wonder made an album with so much to offer.