Photo: Sam Hiscox / Courtesy of Rough Trade Records

SOAK Explores Their Complicated Past on ‘If I Never Know You Like This Again’

SOAK shows on If I Never Know You Like This Again that using uncomfortable past experiences for personal growth doesn’t have to be a drag. It can be a blast.

If I Never Know You Like This Again
Rough Trade Records
20 May 2022

Some things are best left in the past. Photographs of a toxic relationship, for example, can be potent reminders of trauma; better to burn them under a full moon in some paganistic ceremony. Like our bad teenage poetry or old concert tickets, other relics can inspire rosy trips down memory lane. In “If I Never Know You Like This Again”, SOAK, nom de plume of one Bridie Monds-Watson from Derry, Northern Ireland, examines their complicated past with journalistic lyrics, sweet melodies galore, and an indie-rock guitar sound steeped in nostalgia. A confident progression from 2019’s art-pop “Grim Town”, “IINKYLTA” doesn’t abandon SOAK’s folk poet roots while pushing the boat out to a broader sonic landscape.

On opener “Purgatory”, Monds-Watson spins confessional lyrics (“Purgatory is full of bad landlords and people I pretend not to see when I’m hungover,”) in a sincerely voguish delivery reminiscent of Courtney Barnett but too personal for direct comparison. Their Derry inflection is brought proudly to the fore. This track ruminates on a fear of missing out, with Bridie asking if their life is exciting or full enough. “Did I do it all, did I walk the great wall?” a dilemma that is a rite of passage for every 20-something. While it’s not possible to do everything in one life, whether that’s climbing the Great Wall or releasing a great third album, Monds-Watson wants to make sure they are setting themself up for a life of no regrets. “When my life flashes before my eyes, I hope it’s Academy-worthy.” This open-book approach helps us see the determination that drives Bridie’s music, making it all the more relatable.

Single “last july” features a sliding riff trampolining over punchy hi-hats while Monds-Watson laments on how the awkwardness of being too self-aware can ruin moments. “How can I be in the moment when I’m dreading the end of it?” It’s a sonically accomplished track, the result of “nerding out on guitar pedals” with long-term collaborator and producer Tommy McLaughlin. “IINKYLTA” was recorded in McLaughlin’s Attica Studio in majestic Donegal, and you can hear that windswept county’s allure in the space left in the crystal clear mix.

“Bleach” is the first hint of SOAK’s acoustic sensibilities coming into the scene, with a disconsolate expression of a failed romance delivered over pleasant acoustic-led indie rock. The song is a sensitive take on the inadequacies some gender-nonconforming people can feel when in love. “I can’t compete with anatomy / I’ll never be the real deal.” While the song touches on humorous anecdotes (one about a time Bridie bleached their hair green and looked “like a leprechaun”), there’s an adultness to Monds-Watson’s retrospection. Their understanding and exploration of complicated emotions helps them, and by proxy, the audience, transcend.

“pretzel” is a bouncy number with rim-stricken percussion and waterfall guitars, the changing patterns of which make the chorus super impactful. The song dissects the memories of past relationships that can vignette-like movie scenes in our heads. “She dances naked on the bed, to teach me body confidence,” and looks at the repercussions of repeatedly playing out these past moments. “It hurts my head… I’m losing it again”. It’s certainly a highlight. “gutz” is a grower of a track and one that took this reviewer several listens before I could fully appreciate its woozy melody and electronic-led instrumentation.

If there’s sometimes a sense that the album teeters on the safe side, it subsides when “Neptune”, a near seven-minute epic, combines distorted tones, restrained drumming, and a fetching piano line to stunning effect. The closing track and album highlight “swear jar” employs a thrift-store keyboard-sounding drum loop to help move the acoustic storytelling forward before introducing more extensive instrumentation in the second half. Strings sweep beside lyrics about the heartbreaking realization of a dying flame: “You don’t look at me like you used to.” Then Bridie realizes that placing so much importance on others has ultimately distracted them from their own life: “Where have I been all my life? Watching myself from the sidelines.” This line is repeated with building harmonization while a lone acoustic guitar carries the voices. Finally, Monds-Watson’s voice takes over, acapella, and the studio effects steadily fall away, leaving only the clean vocal up close and personal, a clever way to end the album.

“IINKYLTA” is full of youthful energy, emotion, and desire to be understood. It has a summer vibe, but summer when it rains; warm petrichor days. With the songs’ heart-on-their-sleeve lyrics and exuberant melodies, SOAK shows us that using uncomfortable past experiences for personal growth doesn’t have to be a drag. In fact, it can be a blast.

RATING 8 / 10