There is no room on this Soft Power record; it is thick and overripe. It feels like these songs have sat in a moist basement for a long time, and through doing so grown larger, furier and more complicated.
Andrew McLellan, Joel Stern and Josh Watson are all involved in this. All featured in Greg Boring, and there is a fair bit in common between the two entities. Soft Power is softer and less wacky, but it’s also stranger than Greg Boring. This is no small feat because Greg Boring seemed to pride itself on being strange. Instead, it was wacky. I’m sure you appreciate the difference.
Soft Power has the clarity of pop music thanks to the vocals of Sophia Brous, who is the fourth member of the group on this record (Soft Power is usually just McLellan and Stern). I suppose that is why the group is called Soft Power: its pop veneer appears eager to please at first but there are less scrutable motives at play. A macabre streak underpins these bright synths and illustrous vocals, undermining the pop elements in an unusual way. ‘Siren’, for example, seems to break apart at times. The effect is like textures in a virtual landscape wavering, and the song resembles a beautiful error state. Brous sounds like she might belong to another song altogether.
That is what’s interesting about Soft Power. The music seems poised to illustrate a particular kind of 21st century technology anxiety, but it does so in a more subtle way than most. It seems to relish the minutiae of strange systems by humanising sonics we’re used to hearing in more sequenced, rigid environments. It is strange to hear a song like ‘Wundering’, with its drowsy synthetic pulses, and notice the imperfections: how the tempo shifts upwards or down accidentally at times, or how a note will fall out of step with the rest. These lapses breathe life into cold systems.
Soft Power’s songs sound like they have been tampered with. They sound as if they are functioning despite data corruption. Maybe instead of locked in a basement, these songs have sat on an old PC for years, across the fragmented blocks of a hard drive touched by an old virus, absorbing the surrounding data. During a year which has seen several overtly dark synth pop records (Nun, Mob), Soft Power is frightening in a more fascinating and inadvertent way, but it is also very beautiful.
Soft Power’s If You Come Around is available through All Day Breakfast Enterprises.