Beautiful Error States: Soft Power’s If You Come Around reviewed

soft-power-if-you-come-aroundThere 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.


Greg Boring – Heavy Syrup (LP)

greg-boring-heavy-syrupGreg Boring’s debut LP always sounds like it’s winding down. It’s in a perpetual state of ending. Featuring members of Sky Needle and Cured Pink, Heavy Syrup is interesting for what it seems to confirm about a certain stylistic inclination in Australian underground music. Like so many other active bands at present – Mad Nanna and the recent Girls Girls Girls LP come immediately to mind – Greg Boring sounds utterly exhausted.

Greg Boring is colorful, improvised, synth-driven pop music. It’s delivered in an affable enough fashion, and sometimes it even sounds cheerful. Sarah Byrne is one of the country’s best – and strangest – vocalists. Although she never deigns to audibly exert herself here (in contrast to her work with Sky Needle), her voice is preternaturally restless and expressive, even while it’s threaded with a dreary narcolepsy. On Heavy Syrup, Byrne is accompanied by low-tempo drum machines and vintage synth tones. Together, these components usually result in either an unsteady drunken sway or a last-gasp motorik pulse. The music lolls at a very slow, stumbling pace with only a couple of exceptions.

Why does it sound so slight, though, so unstable? The drum machine in particular chuffs like a dying steam train, while the synth melodies dandy about with a staunch ambivalence to timing. At the rock bottom end of the mix, ugly drones reverberate like a Casio keyboard running out of battery power. Greg Boring’s otherwise affable pop music feels like it’s coming unbolted, like the screws are slowly rattling out. Greg Boring isn’t dismantled, it’s dismantling. Greg Boring hasn’t destroyed – in the way you might say Harry Pussy or The Dead C have destroyed, for example – but rather it’s destroying. Very carefully though! It’s like they’re picking it apart.

That’s why they remind me of Mad Nanna, because despite there being very little in common in terms of instrumentation, Greg Boring sounds like pop music winding down gently. It’s like this huge structure, writhing with epochal energy, has been built to its greatest extent and now we’re taking it apart, placing the pieces back in their box but nursing them affectionately before we do, remembering what they did when they were part of something greater. Greg Boring is quite literally, deconstructed pop.

This band sounds very aware of its unimportance and inconsequentiality. They make pop music with a dogged lack of meaning, all hot wind. The neighbourhood is full and heavily gentrified at that, so let’s leave it alone. Let’s let the Greg Borings of the world have their due. Heavy Syrup sounds like a band almost giving up on their form, but in doing so, they stumble upon something rare and fascinating.

Label: Critical Heights
Release date: February 2013


Greg Boring: A brief, baffling introduction


If you search “Greg Boring” on Facebook, you’ll notice there are lots of real Greg Borings out there. As in, people with the actual surname Boring. The official “Greg Boring” – the band at hand – probably has a page there somewhere, but it’s buried among the long-suffering human Greg Borings, many of whom don’t look too miserable, god bless them.

Greg Boring is releasing their debut LP Heavy Syrup through Critical Heights on February 11. This came as a surprise to me, because apart from a tape in the Breakdance the Dawn catalogue, I hadn’t heard a whisper out of them. Curious, I emailed them a few perfunctory questions. The answers I got back are equal parts enlightening and baffling. They also sent me that photo above, which alone could have answered one of my questions: it looks like a Brisbane underground society pic. There’s a bunch of Sky Needle, with a little bit of Cured Pink and Sewers. I’d tell you who they are now, but you’ll find out below anyway.

The band refused to have each answer attributed to the specific band member in question. Make of that what you will. Maybe it doesn’t matter.

Is Greg Boring an actual person?
a) We are. ‘Greg Boring’ is ‘a self-conscious lowbrow who makes a virtue of his own mediocrity’ and his ‘psychological peculiarity is a weak ego’.

b) Well, now we know the press release worked. How do The Residents handle this question? Do they giggle about it each time? We’re giggling about it right now. There is a ‘Greg Boring’. A person who either obtained this pseudonym through reputation or vanity founded the group. Who watches the Watchmen? Greg does.

c) Like a single organism that everyone sees, hears and experiences the same? Are these the demands of contemporary authenticity? Like all the shit around me, I have to be whatever I need to be: an individual is a just cataclysm of various pillaged characters. We take the gestures and affectations we need for one situation and call on a new set for the next. Otherwise I’d be inaccessible in most conversation.

d) none of the above

Who plays in Greg Boring the band? Why did you form the group?
a) Greg Boring, Greg Boring, Greg Boring, Greg Boring, Sarah Byrne. Greg Boring.

b) This question is much harder than the last question because the answer is long and even longer if everyone gets his or her own set of brackets after their name. The people in the photos are in the band.

c) To prove ourself. Several individuals have found themselves in the group, but only after recording, only after the fact. At the artwork stage of the new album it was recalled that Adam Park had played bass throughout the record, on a tip off from Sarah Byrne and Andrew McLellan looking at the ‘date created’ on the original session files. It is safe to say Adam did not know he was in Greg Boring, and perhaps still doesn’t. It may be up to him. Someone should let him know the record is coming out. Adam, if you are reading this…

d) all of the above

How long has Heavy Syrup been in the works?
a) One long night. That Greg Boring cannot recall.

b) Heavy Syrup the LP on Critical Heights took time. It’s pretty good, obviously even some cocky Brisbane art-snobs are gonna have to go over it with a fine-tooth comb. Roughly a year. We all had to wait for people to change and emerge and get enough cash to buy some new drum machines and synths to drop on our feet. What I’m saying is you gotta have money to be different and follow your dreams and if anyone tells you differently tell ‘em to go back to their big golden guitar in the dirt.

c) Heavy Syrup was given up on the Cyprus Hillsong netlabel sometime in early 2012 after Joel Stern found an unmarked recording session from early 2011 on his studio computer. Disclosure, after the fact.

d) some of the above

You guys had a Breakdance the Dawn cassette scheduled as well, is that still happening?
a) Breakdance the Dawn has a schedule?

b) We have had many already. No idea what show or recording this may be. If we’ve performed in front of him, we award Matt Earle absolute decision making power, with no consultation.

c) it’s always happening, still.

d) the above

What influences Greg Boring, sonically or otherwise?
a) Extreme entertainment listening, ‘misrelation to the subject matter, an ‘inner realm’ which stays altogether empty, abstract and indefinite. Sometimes, where this attitude is radicalised, artificial paradises take shape as they do for the hashish smoker and powerful taboos are violated.

a1) I’ll be waiting online when you come back with your answer. In the meantime our answers are here in list form: Moog, Vermona, Crowther, Boss, Digitech, Europa, Vox, Sarah Byrne, Casio, long sticks, short sticks, big big big springs, rubber bands, Stihl, Coca-Cola, Michael.

Is Greg Boring pop music?
a) “The listening of Popular music is manipulated not only by its promoters, but as it were, by the inherent nature of this music itself, into a system of response-mechanisms wholly antagonistic to the ideal of individuality in a free, liberal society.” We are Unpopular music.

b) Pop music is famous people singing over childrens music. On the other hand, there’s all these liberal types that say their mate down the street singing about their dole cheques over the top of some discordant zither is also pop music. We don’t know anymore; we don’t care anymore. Frankly, it’s a market we could do with / without.


Greg Boring’s Heavy Syrup releases February 11 through Critical Heights.