Soak's full-length debut may be more briny than brainy, but it’s the emotional truths she sings that keep the listener afloat.
Irish teen Bridie Monds-Watson took the name Soak to stand for a combination of soul and folk, which she says describes her distinctive musical style. The description may be accurate on a certain level, but it also misleads. The soul of her expression comes from the depth from which it emerges, but one would never connect it to what is normally considered soul music. And while the songs are mostly acoustic or performed with an acoustic ambiance, they do not resemble what is normally considered folk. There is nothing traditional here, except maybe in the sense of great music with a profound emotional edge. Soak says her influences include Joni Mitchell and Pink Floyd, but in its subversive confessional confrontations, think of the Smiths’ The Queen is Dead, an album that shares the distinction of coming out before she was born, like the best of Mitchell and Floyd.
As for her chosen moniker, Soak’s wordplay seems a bit daft. She also engages in Sly Stone / Prince-style spellings on several of her song titles (e.g., “B a noBody”, “Blud”, “Shuvels”), but this may be the only thing self-consciously silly about her debut disc, Before We Forgot How to Dream. Soak drenches her album in reveries about growing up in an absurd world where things may not always make sense or be right. This realization grounds her songs. She keenly gazes upon the larger society as a participant observer.
For example, take the three previously mentioned songs. On “B a noBody”: in a breathy voice, she sweetly coos, “We’ll ne- / ver amount / To anything/ C’mon c’mon / Be just like me / C’mon c’mon / Be a nobody.” Our common fate as one unworthy of special attention brings us all closer together. Soak begins “Blud” with a strummed acoustic guitar and then gently sings, “You’ve got a problem / I cannot fix it.“ We may not be able to solve each other’s difficulties, but we can be present for each other. “Shuvels” peacefully concerns a haunting where heaven is buried under snow, but when friends show up to help, we tell them to go away. No one can assist us but ourselves. These three tunes share a sense of adolescent melodrama that is annulled by Soak’s quiet intimacy. She does not raise her voice in alarm, but croons her crises in discreet and confidential ways. That which does not kill her makes her tranquil.
Soak’s tunes tend to use inviting, rambling melodies. The songs move forward through her careful phrasing. She is not averse to repeating words to create rhythms: “And I I I I I I I won’t waste my youth this year / So don’t don’t don’t don’t don’t don’t don’t don’t spend your night in tears,” she sings on “Reckless Behavior”. The repetition suggests determination. Soak also creates sonic landscapes with the help of electronic effects. The opening track, “My Brain”, is an instrumental that lasts just over a minute long and contains loops and phasing to create a private world where confusion reigns blissfully only to suddenly end, like one brusquely awakened from sleep. The intentional irony of beginning an album entitled Before We Forgot How to Dream with a wakeup call makes an irrational sense. The listener can now begin attentively dreaming to the music.
Soak employs a similar technique on another one-minute instrumental track, “if everyone is someone -- no one is everyone”. This mostly acoustic guitar and piano tune, featuring some sonic effects, gently glides along, but instead of stopping abruptly, it blends into the next cut. This is the longest and sometimes the loudest one on the record, “Oh Brother”, and the one from that contains the line from which the album gets its title. The concerns here are oblique, and perhaps familial, but the mood is clear. Stray lyrics emerge that convey Soak’s struggle to find the meaning in life; perchance it is only in dreams where one can find it.
Or maybe one just needs to soak in the ocean. The most beautiful song here, “Sea Creatures”, uses the sound of waves, music, and Soak’s dulcet vocals to evoke something larger than the self: a world where stars and the moon remind one of the power of love and transcendence. Her happiness is infectious. One can hear the smile in her voice.
This 14-track, 42-minute long disc offers a deep and mysterious environment that may be more briny than brainy, and it’s the emotional truth in the music that keeps one afloat. Things like fame, injustice, death, family, and such may make up the outside civilization in which we live, but it is only in our interior selves where we can dream and fly.