The Soft Set have one of the best songs of the year on this latest, self-titled disc. On “Record On”, the Set sing “Stayin’ up late / Listenin’ to records / My favorite ones that don’t last long / But I can play them / And never get bored / And that’s what’s great about a pop song / And I don’t feel so low when I got a record on”. The music is simple, the hooks are undeniable. This is lo-fi/mid-fi goodness that makes you want to hear more.
Unfortunately, the rest of The Soft Set fails to live up to that one song. In fact, it’s hard to tell just what this group is all about or who they are. No credits are listed inside the disc, and all I could find after a bit of searching is that the band is from Austin, Texas, usually one of my favorite indie locales, but this time the music comes up a bit short.
Overall the The Soft Set isn’t a bad effort, but then again there’s nothing that really grabs you like “Record On”. The first tune, “Meg Tilly” is rather engaging. Anyone who’s ever felt an attraction to the actress will undoubtedly feel a connection with the words here. “Saw her on TV when I was fourteen / The things she said didn’t make much sense / She didn’t seem to care that she was laughin’ / As she introduced some kids with cancer”. Strange, but interesting enough. Musically, the Set claims to be influenced by (the band is also found at mp3.com) the Velvet Underground, Belle and Sebastian, and the Modern Lovers. The VU guitar influence is definitely there in small amounts, while the overly sensitive and cloying B&S lyrics take center stage. Not sure about that Modern Lovers influence, though.
“He sees himself in songs of Belle and Sebastian”, goes the first line to “Never Felt That Way”. Hearing it makes one wonder if the lyrics are autobiographical, given the nature of many of the other songs here. Belle and Sebastian fans will likely go for the sound of The Soft Set. But all of it’s just a bit too low key after a while. The Soft Set are definitely plugged in, but at the same time it seems like they could use a sugar jolt or some equivalent to get them going beyond their slower tempos. Plus, there’s only so many naïve songs about puppy dog love and girls that can remain interesting during the course of a full album. Here, the Set piles those on with songs like “The Way She Smiles”, “The Conversation”, and “Lower Your Eyes”. The vocals never get much beyond a whisper, and the rhythms trickle out like water in a clogged pipe.
It’s too bad the band doesn’t bother to push themselves further. After all, nine songs that all start sounding the same after track two don’t seem like much of a selling point. For those who enjoy their indie pop slow, twee, and sensitive, then this band may be just the thing you’re looking for. But if you want a little more punch and energy with variations between the hard and soft, then you would probably be best looking elsewhere. The Soft Set could certainly lull you to sleep, but even then you might find yourself getting up to just turn it off completely as the band’s sound doesn’t quite push one over into the throes of dreamland.
// Notes from the Road
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