Shore Obsessed is an album that never quite settles into its borders.
Soft Circle, originally a solo project for Hisham Akira Bharoocha, has grown into something closer to a band. Shore Obsessed -- which, as its title implies, deals with our planet's ravaged resources -- is a collaboration with multi-instrumentalist Benjamin Vida and vocalist Matteah Baim. Here Bharoocha and company try to shape his ambient, electronic soundscapes into tighter pop structures. Using dance-beat vocals and clear pop structures for the lyrics, solid songs begin to take shape. Some, like the ever-swelling "First Time" or the damp sway of "Take Flight" seem to amp up in tension and emotion with this constriction. In other places, though, the tracks seem stuck between pop styles and ambient space, never quite deciding on one of the other. "Treading Water", for example, feels crowded by simple drums and high-in-the-mix vocals, which obscure the interesting keyboard work. "Reaper" comes off as standard dance-floor fare and, consequently, far less appealing than the moodier stuff on the record. You can feel these collaborators finding common ground, and the way they stick to these rigid songwriting confines is commendable. However, Shore Obsessed is an album that never quite settles into its borders and, ironically, you might find yourself wanting those edges to wear and fall away, to see the solidity of these songs become the deeper, liquid feel of Bharoocha's older work.