Soft | Gone Faded (Academy Fight Song/Silver Sleeve)

cd_soft.jpgI was hooked, listening to the scant four songs on their MySpace page a few dozen times as I waited patiently for a copy of the full length to arrive.

 

 

We get a lot of press releases from a lot of bands here at PLAYBACK:stl HQ, and while I hate to admit it, I don’t particularly do more than scan a lot of them, especially when it comes to unknown bands on unknown labels. When the email came in a few weeks back from a band called Soft, it got the same scan treatment, but more bits and pieces caught my eye than usual. They talked about wanting "to make big, bright, shiny pop songs," which sounded pretty enticing to these ears. Their work ethic in the recording studio — where they refined their "huge" songs over more than three years—was defined by their love of Kevin Shields and My Bloody Valentine. One of their first gigs was opening for another shoegaze hero, Mark Gardner of Ride. They were even on a label named after a Mission of Burma song. This was too many great-sounding tidbits to not at least give the band a listen.

Clicking over to their MySpace page, the song to greet me was "Higher," the second track from Soft’s three-years-in-the-making debut full length, Gone Faded. For once, here was a band delivering exactly what their press release promised: with layer upon layer of shimmering guitars and a smooth-as-silk voice delivering a melody that jabs its way into your head and won’t let go, "Higher" is pretty much the textbook definition of a "big, bright, shiny pop song." As phenomenal as "Higher" was at first blush, "Droppin’" managed to outdo it. Opening with a thudding bass drum that forms the bedrock as each other instrument is added to the mix one by one, listening to "Droppin’" tripped the same sensory memories as the first time I heard Arcade Fire’s "Rebellion (Lies)." I was hooked, listening to the scant four songs on their MySpace page a few dozen times as I waited patiently for a copy of the full length to arrive.

Given the lofty expectations I developed based on those few songs, I guess it’s not that surprising that the whole album doesn’t quite live up. Gone Faded kicks off on an odd note with the title track, opening with a dirty guitar riff that starts mid-note, slowed down but lurching to full speed within a half-second like a record player kicked on in the middle of a song. Singer Johnny Reineck strains at the top of his range, sounding like an even higher pitched version of Death Cab for Cutie’s Ben Gibbard, sans the intimacy. Things improve with "Higher," "Droppin’," and the song they sandwich, "You Make Me Wanna Die," which takes the shoegaze pop of those two songs in a darker direction with rumbling acoustic guitars accented with a slicing electric lead from guitarists Vincent Perini and Sam Wheeler.

Those three songs are easily the finest moments on the album, and with the best songs front-loaded, Gone Faded‘s back half feels very nondescript and same-y by comparison, with only the circling guitars of "Hundred Days" standing out from the pack-a song, much like the album’s early trifecta, that made it onto the band’s MySpace page. Much has been said about the intricate, intensive recording sessions for Gone Faded, but the result feels at times over-thought and over-produced, too clean when a little dirt would do it a world of good. Also, much of one’s enjoyment of the record will hinge on one’s opinion of Reinick’s voice, which is pushed front and center in the mix. On some songs, his higher register feels thin enough to break, particularly on "Great Spirit," where his singing goes from merely unremarkable to fully irritating before the song is over. The lyrics can be dodgy, too, ranging from so serious they’re silly ("When your bangs are in your eyes/ You make me wanna die") to merely nonsensical ("Set the gate/ And oscillate/ Acoustic you used it/ You can’t even tolerate"—huh?). Still, four utterly fantastic songs is better than a lot of bands can manage. Here’s hoping their follow up manages to sustain those heights from start to finish. B | Jason Green

RIYL: Ride, My Bloody Valentine, Jesus & Mary Chain

Be the first to comment

Leave a Reply