We have not heard anything from Ms. John Soda since 2006. Their first record, No P or D caught some attention back in 2002 and their 2006 follow up Notes and the Like was also quite good. In some ways, not much has changed since 2002, but that is also part of the problem. Ms. John Soda’s new record Loom sounds like a band that does not have very much new to say. The kind of electro-acoustic pop music that Ms. John Soda specialize in has come a long way since 2002 and is hardly the curious new thing that it seemed around the turn of the millennium. In spite of how the musical landscape has changed, Ms. John Soda has opted not to tweak the formula much. This would not be such a bad thing if the songs were more compelling and memorable, but the material on Loom feels somewhat lackadaisical and indifferent.
It says something about Ms. John Soda that their most striking moments as a band came on the Morr label’s Slowdive tribute album Blue Skied an’ Clear. The two Slowdive songs that Ms. John Soda cover on the tribute, particularly “Here She Comes”, bring all of their best characteristics to light; the sedated, somewhat drone-like quality of Stefanie Böhm’s vocals add tension and power to these tracks and the tinkling electronics work perfectly for the material. It is the truly spectacular material culled from Slowdive’s best records that brings out the best in Ms. John Soda as a band. Unfortunately, the songs on Loom do not meet the standard of this admittedly unrealistically high bar.
There is a definite sense on Loom that the music has been dabbling a bit too heavily in benzodiazepines. There is a sleepy half-heartedness to these songs that is difficult to get very excited about. None of these songs are irritating or out of place, but none of them stand out or assert themselves either. Loom drifts along without picking up any momentum or reaching any sort of climax. Böhm’s vocals in particular tend to weigh these tracks down, as the vocals themselves are weighed down with filters and effects.
Ms. John Soda’s music is pretty and meditative. The combination of human and electronic elements are meant to beg questions about where technology starts and humanity ends, but projects like this need drive and energy to work properly. Morr labelmates múm mine a similar sound, but with vastly different results. múm create strange, hallucinatory, dreamscapes filled with diseased magic. Loom just tends to make the listener vaguely sleepy. After such a long hiatus we might have hoped for more zeal from Ms. John Soda, but Loom does not sound like a band rested, refreshed, and ready for action.
There is still plenty to like about Loom. Tracks like “The Light” and “Sirens” pick up the pace a little bit and are more likely than the others to stick in your head, but it would be surprising if even these highlights won over any new fans. This may be the last we hear from Ms. John Soda, which is a shame, because when they jell all of their strengths together, cool things often happen. Unfortunately, these moments are few and far between on Loom.