Music

Soft Metals: Soft Metals

The Machines called whilst you were out. They want bread, milk, and some Acieeeeeed!


Soft Metals

Soft Metals

Label: Captured Tracks
US Release Date: 2011-07-19
UK Release Date: 2011-07-18
Website
Amazon
iTunes

If there were an exam on the history of electronic music, from first beep to present pulse, Portland duo Soft Metals would surely get straight As. They know their beans. They could pin a tail on a Frankie Knuckles' joint blindfolded, recall an obscure Yellow Magic Orchestra album track with one opening note, and even name every member of Kraftwerk without looking it up on Wikipedia. Their garage is probably chocka full of vintage Rolands, wires, smoke machines, and blinking lights. It's probably a fire hazard, actually, you should really sort this mess out. I'm guessing Ian Hicks and Patricia Furpurse (seriously amazing stage name) sit in their garage 'til the break of dawn lighting up that puppy like Solo and his Wookie firin' up the Millenium Falcon. I bet they respectfully digest the manuals, though – cover to cover, inside and out. Yes, Soft Metals reside in the more selective, serious, chin-stroking side of electronic music beside your Orbitals, Orbs, Sterling Voids, Aphex Twins, and Guy Called Geralds. If your name's not "Heritage", you're not coming in. Disco dollies? Trot on, Sista! But is it actually any fun? Folks, get ready to chin stroke.

Soft Metals rolls like a tight, professional, but lovingly sincere museum tour of "Real electronica". That's "Real Electronica", not the prancing around in baggy pastel pants whilst hollering "Oh yeah, your love takes me hiiiigher". More scientists hunched over inexplicably complex gadgetry, riding the groove, triggering gurgling beats, whilst twizzling knobs 'n' dials like spinning plates. The first gallery Furpurse leads us through is the Kraftwerk suite itself with "Psychic Driving". Ah, the origins! Modestly paced 'floaty-synthy' as anaesthetically soothing as drifting inside a relaxation chamber at the local health spa. You're breathing deeply. Wave at the Unicorn as it hops over the rainbow into the little fluffy clouds! Ooh, let all that stress right out. "You've had me for some time / I'm gonna take back what's mine" threatens Furpurse, somewhat disconcertingly. The similarly paced "Always" holds us in "Kraftwerk Korner", echoing the militant drive of "Robots" but introduces a brush of tougher Grandmaster Flash street beats and some TB-303 acid squelch, which only adds to the hypnotic sway. It's all still very serious, though, now straight faces, chaps, and zip up that matching white jump suit, pronto!

The sense of passing through musical galleria is enhanced by the inclusion of two brief, if not convincingly memorable, instrumentals which act as the precarious rope bridge between opposing worlds. "Celestial Call" feeds late 80's Depeche Mode-style gothy sampling with some heavenly Eastern choirs, whilst "Hold My Breath" is gurgling, broody bass pierced by cascading light. It's all a bit "Miami Vice, night scene, Crockett reflects". So let's move on, shall we? We've still got lots to see and we need to get to the gift shop before it closes!

Some rooms are more welcoming than others, but many are worthy of return visits. The seriously impressive "Voices" hangs in the European darkwave room. A coven of black nail varnish, dead eyes, and blank expressions in dimly lit Berlin nightclubs. "A little voice inside my head echoes! Echoes! Louder!". Dramatic, archly sleek, and more euphoric than its bedfellows, it's stealth pop and sounds like some classy, freak-unique cult Euro banger from 1988. It's a keeper for sure. "The Cold World Melts" favours the dark, too, like Giorgio Moroder under midnight skies and a full moon. It's a rebellious Soft Metals forcibly stealing the reins and veering off the beaten path toward unknown pleasures. A flourishing, feverish futurist rush that suits them perfectly. Furpurse's ghostly vocal echoing through the tannoy over exhilarating John Carpenter buzzing electro bass, asthmatic hi-hats, and the pulse of racing through the night. Upon its conclusion, the only sensible response is, "I'll have what she's having".

Another treasure is the lighter, bouncier "Pain", which, despite its title, isn't caged in the Nitzer Ebb room but more akin to early '90s romantic synth-pop like St Etienne or One Dove. Its confessions on a dancefloor, "Your eyes never look at me / Your lips never speak to me / That pain finds me everyday" weeps Furpurse like an unrequited ghost in the machine. It's such a relentless, infectious groove that it's easy to imagine a crowd rampacked into a tent, bobbing up 'n' down at 3 a.m. at Glastonbury or Coachella. Soft Metals build their music layer by layer right before you, the effect akin to watching a painter in fast forward. The same hypnosis spins again on "Eyes Closed", which envisages a Donna Summer vs. Orbital transcendental face-off, albeit to lesser effect. "Eyes closed to see... eyes closed to see... love". I'm sensing waves in the mind, seagulls with lasers for eyes. It is possibly better experienced whilst tripping your tits off amongst 1000 other like-minded folk. "Anyone for more Acieeeeeed?"

As is the danger with serious electronic music, there is the chance you'll disconnect. Despite Furpurse's achingly sincere reflections on love lost, "Do You Remember?", musically, feels like Soft Metals on autopilot. The final instrumental "In Throes", though, is definitely a bridge too far. Despite its title promising unhinged KORG trashing freakout, it feels like the band have taken their bows, leaving the machines to pack up: "Yeah, you cats shake your thing; we'll see you backstage for drinks". If you were in a club, you'd be queuing for your cloak during this and worrying about how little sleep you're gonna get before getting up for work.

Soft Metals works convincingly as a heartfelt, informed, and enjoyable guide to the history of the electronic heart. It's not always awe-inspiring Objet d'art -- you'll scurry through some rooms faster than others -- but there are enough "WOW!" moments to justify the ticket price. Soft Metals' devotion to their cause rings true. They know dance music can be crazy, sexy, cool. Well, they've got the last two nailed; they just need to crank up the former. It definitely works to slip off those lab coats more often. Hell, even Beaker 'n' Bunsen, the studious scientists from the Muppets, got to blow shit up at least once a week. School's out for summer, so throw your homework onto the fire and burn that mutha down!

6

Cover down, pray through: Bob Dylan's underrated, misunderstood "gospel years" are meticulously examined in this welcome new installment of his Bootleg series.

"How long can I listen to the lies of prejudice?
How long can I stay drunk on fear out in the wilderness?"
-- Bob Dylan, "When He Returns," 1979

Bob Dylan's career has been full of unpredictable left turns that have left fans confused, enthralled, enraged – sometimes all at once. At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival – accompanied by a pickup band featuring Mike Bloomfield and Al Kooper – he performed his first electric set, upsetting his folk base. His 1970 album Self Portrait is full of jazzy crooning and head-scratching covers. In 1978, his self-directed, four-hour film Renaldo and Clara was released, combining concert footage with surreal, often tedious dramatic scenes. Dylan seemed to thrive on testing the patience of his fans.

Keep reading... Show less
9
TV

Inane Political Discourse, or, Alan Partridge's Parody Politics

Publicity photo of Steve Coogan courtesy of Sky Consumer Comms

That the political class now finds itself relegated to accidental Alan Partridge territory along the with rest of the twits and twats that comprise English popular culture is meaningful, to say the least.

"I evolve, I don't…revolve."
-- Alan Partridge

Alan Partridge began as a gleeful media parody in the early '90s but thanks to Brexit he has evolved into a political one. In print and online, the hopelessly awkward radio DJ from Norwich, England, is used as an emblem for incompetent leadership and code word for inane political discourse.

Keep reading... Show less

The show is called Crazy Ex-Girlfriend largely because it spends time dismantling the structure that finds it easier to write women off as "crazy" than to offer them help or understanding.

In the latest episode of Crazy Ex-Girlfriend, the CW networks' highly acclaimed musical drama, the shows protagonist, Rebecca Bunch (Rachel Bloom), is at an all time low. Within the course of five episodes she has been left at the altar, cruelly lashed out at her friends, abandoned a promising new relationship, walked out of her job, had her murky mental health history exposed, slept with her ex boyfriend's ill father, and been forced to retreat to her notoriously prickly mother's (Tovah Feldshuh) uncaring guardianship. It's to the show's credit that none of this feels remotely ridiculous or emotionally manipulative.

Keep reading... Show less
9

Gallagher's work often suffers unfairly beside famous husband's Raymond Carver. The Man from Kinvara should permanently remedy this.

Many years ago—it had to be 1989—my sister and I attended a poetry reading given by Tess Gallagher at California State University, Northridge's Little Playhouse. We were students, new to California and poetry. My sister had a paperback copy of Raymond Carver's Cathedral, which we'd both read with youthful admiration. We knew vaguely that he'd died, but didn't really understand the full force of his fame or talent until we unwittingly went to see his widow read.

Keep reading... Show less
8

If space is time—and space is literally time in the comics form—the world of the novel is a temporal cage. Manuele Fior pushes at the formal qualities of that cage to tell his story.

Manuele Fior's 5,000 Km Per Second was originally published in 2009 and, after winning the Angouléme and Lucca comics festivals awards in 2010 and 2011, was translated and published in English for the first time in 2016. As suggested by its title, the graphic novel explores the effects of distance across continents and decades. Its love triangle begins when the teenaged Piero and his best friend Nicola ogle Lucia as she moves into an apartment across the street and concludes 20 estranged years later on that same street. The intervening years include multiple heartbreaks and the one second phone delay Lucia in Norway and Piero in Egypt experience as they speak while 5,000 kilometers apart.

Keep reading... Show less
7
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 Popmatters.com. All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.

rating-image