There’s something Bowie-esque about Southway’s presentation on Somapop. Maybe it’s the eclectic mix of modern synth-punk that borders on poppy dance music? Or perhaps it’s his lyrics that swing from a rollicking good time to eloquently tongue-in-cheek socio-political commentary? Like Bowie, Southway is a Brit who found himself drawn to American shores, bringing together auditory elements of both sides of the pond, all while constantly re-inventing himself. Any way you look at it, Southway’s second disc is all good.
Alright, admittedly, it may be a bit of a heavy comparison to liken a relative newcomer like Southway to a legend like David Bowie; however, Southway is quickly making a mark for himself in the underground San Francisco South of Market (SoMa) scene as not just a creator, but a producer. As the son of a DJ and a dancer, Southway migrated from his hometown of Bristol in 1995, finally settling in the sunny scene of California. Although he’s been Stateside for over a decade, from the sounds of Somapop, his European roots still show but there is definitely more of a brighter tone to his tunes, emblematic of the Golden State itself.
Significantly sunnier than offerings on Southway’s first album, 2004’s Electroganic, Somapop was born of what were initially to be remixes of material from Electroganic. Whereas his debut was a bit more mopey—a swirling, punk/electronica/goth flavored affair—Southway has significantly amped up the bubbly pop aspect of the sound of his current incarnation. Although his earlier work was a far cry from The Cure in terms of Debbie Downer content, Somapop zings with more funk mixed with punk, less Nine Inch Nails and more of an ‘80s New Wave level of catchiness. The introspective nature is still there, but it’s much more universally reaching and subtle. Instead of locking yourself in your bedroom without desert, Somapop encourages you to get your ass out on the dance floor and interact with others, sharing thoughts and grooves in a much more upbeat manner.
You gotta like a guy who is not only a self-admitted liner note junkie but embeds in fine print that “unauthorized copying, hiring, lending, public performance and broadcasting of this record encouraged” among the copy on the back of his album. In an overly sensitive era of artists piddling in their diapers about the mere thought of copyright infringement, it’s refreshing to find one who knows the organic value of word-of-mouth advertising from new converts. Indeed, with the wealth of sound and style on “Somapop”, Southway won’t have too much trouble finding record store and dance floor dilettantes to dig his disc. There are layers of the familiar blended with something completely different as Southway genre-hops throughout his second offering. “Try n’ Try Again” is vaguely J. Geils Band-ish, while “Lovin’ Hurtin’” is reminiscent of Elton John with its “Crocodile Rock”-esque bounce. Featuring a pulsing, synthesized piano that tag-teams with nasal, pop-punk vocals, the song’s unusual drum patterns and oddly timed fills add an improv vibe to “Lovin’ Hurtin’”, giving it a live, on-the-fly, experimental feel.
From his obvious love of experimenting with sounds in his music, there are personal aspects to some of the tracks on Somapop. “Life” takes on a retro vibe of philosophizing over simplistic Casio keyboard beats while “Sometimes Ya Feel Like Bein’ Hurt” is a beautiful take on pain, possibly inspired by the dissolution of Southway’s ten-year relationship with his girlfriend.
Perhaps the most surprising and fun part of Somapop, lies buried underneath layers of punky-pop froth as Southway issues several curveballs in the form of commentary and astute observations on his adopted country. “Modern Complications” is a snarky ode to materialism and work ethic, reverberating with crashing waves of wah-wah-distorted riffs and a buzzing, electronic undercurrent. Tackling yet another symptom of our times, “Psychoative Pill” blurs together a subtle commentary on the prevalence of (prescription) drug culture thanks to the breakneck pace and pressure of society. However, Southway is at his most scathing on “What They Say About U” as he rails against the current administration with lyrics like “People ragin’, demonstratin’ / Why don’t you hear what they’re sayin’ / There’s never been a dick like you before”, punching up the track with vocal samples of George W. Bush at his finest.
In spite of the snarl behind the chirpiness, Southway still manages to drum up moments of loveliness on Somapop, notably with the solo snare of “Freedom Song” which graduates into a beautiful melody with echoing harmonies, urging that “Change will come / If you want it”. It’s this very DIY observation and ethic that sums up Southway’s attitude and approach to making music. With most of the album written, produced, and performed all by his lonesome (with the exception of Stuart Robertson assisting with some mixing and production on the disc), Southway subtly stresses the value of bringing his own vision to fruition. Sometimes it happens accidentally, and other times, completely by sheer force of will. Either way, he shares these self-revelations and observations on Somapop, dodging the “sophomore slump” and putting his own spin on “punk n’ funk” fusion.
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