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Soft Metals – Soft Metals review

Having surfaced on Mike Sniper’s consistently excellent Captured Tracks imprint last year with the rough round the edges synth pop delights of The Cold World Melts EP, Portland duo Soft Metals grace the Brooklyn label with their eponymous debut album. Nominally presented as the “synth pop romance” of band members Ian Hicks and Patricia Hall (or Furpurse if you prefer her excellent stage name), the shared musical influences that saw a relationship blossom in the band’s early days combined with the obvious chemistry they now share as a couple makes for an illuminating listen on Soft Metals.

It would take a stern soul not to be enchanted from the moment Hall’s voice rises over the hazy synthscapes and engaging, rasping retro electro rhythms conjured by Hicks on opening track “Psychic Driving”. This winning combination lays the template for the album, yet crucially it never sounds one dimensional as Soft Metals seek to play out their influences without making them overt, instead incorporating them into the synth pop romance. Witness the brief interludes of acid tinged bass fuzz that lend “Always” a certain Chicago charm or the harsh East European cold wave tones that run throughout “Celestial Call”.

Elsewhere two of the most impressive tracks from the aforementioned EP of last year are brushed up and presented anew, offering a possible bridge in the Soft Metals story. The new sheen that surrounds “Voices” and “The Cold World Melts” ensures they shine here too, notably the former with its upward twirls of melody acting in harmony with synth stabs that tug in the opposite direction. There’s a real elation to the soaring synchronicity that occurs during the chorus.

The pure nonchalant beauty of Hall’s voice is striking throughout, though they make room for the focus to shift, albeit briefly, to the impressive analogue hardware that channels beneath. Alongside the sludgy lyricless harmonies of  “Celestial Call” which sounds like a choir’s rendition of Salem, “Hold My Breath” is the one purely instrumental endeavour, allowing Hicks to implement layer upon layer of jagged analogue tones over a stringent electro beat.

Those seeking some depth to the music need only focus on the album’s lyrical content which references writers such as Sagan and Kurzweil and the documentarian Adam Curtis, whose examinations of the human psyche informs the subject matter of the opening track. As with the other influences of Soft Metals, these are not overbearing, simply another subtle element of what makes this album so captivating.

Tony Poland