Sofa Surfers: Sofa Surfers

Sofa Surfers expertly illuminate the dark side of a world with no easy answers -- and they do it with style.

Sofa Surfers

Sofa Surfers

Label: Klein
Germany release date: 2005-10-28
US Release Date: Available as import
UK Release Date: 2006-04-03

For the first time since Massive Attack's Mezzanine, and specifically that album's opening track "Angel", I can feel the dread. It's that feeling that something huge and probably catastrophic is about to happen, those moments of building tension before the impending explosion, an explosion that "Angel" embodied in a swirl of electric guitars and thick rhythmic layering. "White Noise", the leadoff track on Sofa Surfers' eponymous fourth album, finds the sort of aura that the first couple minutes of "Angel" achieved, and lengthens it, ultimately filling the entire five-and-a-half minute track with it. The tempo is just a little too slow, the atmosphere created by the dueling guitars a little too creepy, and the R&B-ish vocal turns of vocalist/dancer Mani Obeya a little too unpredictable for anything in the song to get labeled as "catchy." Rather, it's engrossing, inviting you into a world that dares you to care enough to hope for resolution, only to string you along for its entire length and drop you off without any such thing.

In other words, it's wonderful.

The rest of Sofa Surfers doesn't exactly live up to such a strong start, but not much could. What the Viennese quartet-plus-one (Obeya, technically, isn't a member of the band, though his vocals adorn every track on Sofa Surfers) does deliver is an album that ditches the cold, largely electronic, dubby leanings of their past and embraces a much warmer sound: still bass-heavy, but more, for lack of a better term, band-like. It's a chill-out album as played by a band rather than created by a producer, and it's doubly fascinating for it.

Back to the tension of "White Noise" for a second. While the rest of the album may not quite live up to it, the song does hint at many of the characteristics that carry through the remainder. For one, there's the tension. This is not an album based in catharsis, this is an album that carries with it the distant scent of possible climactic release. The second track "Say Something" is perhaps the most adept at carrying this mood through its length, often punching some distortion into its muted guitars to hint at the idea that it could blow the roof off at any time. And at the end, it almost does, except for the fact that when the distortion kicks in, it's unsatisfying and frustrating in the best of ways, giving listeners what they've been expecting for the entire song but still sounding as though it's leading to something bigger. And then it ends.

Even the words hint toward a possibly foreboding but untold future -- in the album's most uptempo track, the almost-rollicking, bass-heavy "Notes of a Prodigal", Obeya sings, "Watch him dancing, watch him singing / Watch him shaking his ass on the deck / Watch as his smile is slowly widening / And there’s a rope around his neck." It's a snippet indicative of the rest of the album, giving us the prologue to the disaster to come, but never laying out its actual happening. "Every house has its ghosts / Which one bothers you the most?," Obeya asks in "Good Day to Die", setting the mood once again in an album full of ghosts. He doesn't bother to patronize his listeners with a happy ending, either, as he ends the album repeating, "I can't breathe for the smell of fear," before ultimately telling us, "You can never go back." It's not happy, but it's not explosive, or angry, or desperate, either -- it's simply an album-length warning sign, foreshadowing events that we will never see come to fruition.

Given that Sofa Surfers is a story without an ending, it's potentially frustrating for its lack of resolution. Still, that's just the attribute that's bound to attract much of the band's intended audience for this album -- it's an album that illuminates the dark side of a life without any easy answers. Oh, and it does that with pensive, slowly-progressing, straight-up style. You can't ask for much more.

Sofa Surfers - Can I Get a Witness


In Americana music the present is female. Two-thirds of our year-end list is comprised of albums by women. Here, then, are the women (and a few men) who represented the best in Americana in 2017.

If a single moment best illustrates the current divide between Americana music and mainstream country music, it was Sturgill Simpson busking in the street outside the CMA Awards in Nashville. While Simpson played his guitar and sang in a sort of renegade-outsider protest, Garth Brooks was onstage lip-syncindg his way to Entertainer of the Year. Americana music is, of course, a sprawling range of roots genres that incorporates traditional aspects of country, blues, soul, bluegrass, etc., but often represents an amalgamation or reconstitution of those styles. But one common aspect of the music that Simpson appeared to be championing during his bit of street theater is the independence, artistic purity, and authenticity at the heart of Americana music. Clearly, that spirit is alive and well in the hundreds of releases each year that could be filed under Americana's vast umbrella.

Keep reading... Show less

From genre-busting electronic music to new highs in the ever-evolving R&B scene, from hip-hop and Americana to rock and pop, 2017's music scenes bestowed an embarrassment of riches upon us.

60. White Hills - Stop Mute Defeat (Thrill Jockey)

White Hills epic '80s callback Stop Mute Defeat is a determined march against encroaching imperial darkness; their eyes boring into the shadows for danger but they're aware that blinding lights can kill and distort truth. From "Overlord's" dark stomp casting nets for totalitarian warnings to "Attack Mode", which roars in with the tribal certainty that we can survive the madness if we keep our wits, the record is a true and timely win for Dave W. and Ego Sensation. Martin Bisi and the poster band's mysterious but relevant cool make a great team and deliver one of their least psych yet most mind destroying records to date. Much like the first time you heard Joy Division or early Pigface, for example, you'll experience being startled at first before becoming addicted to the band's unique microcosm of dystopia that is simultaneously corrupting and seducing your ears. - Morgan Y. Evans

Keep reading... Show less

This week on our games podcast, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

This week, Nick and Eric talk about the joy and frustration of killing Nazis in Wolfenstein: The New Order.

Keep reading... Show less

Which is the draw, the art or the artist? Critic Rachel Corbett examines the intertwined lives of two artists of two different generations and nationalities who worked in two starkly different media.

Artist biographies written for a popular audience necessarily involve compromise. On the one hand, we are only interested in the lives of artists because we are intrigued, engaged, and moved by their work. The confrontation with a work of art is an uncanny experience. We are drawn to, enraptured and entranced by, absorbed in the contemplation of an object. Even the performative arts (music, theater, dance) have an objective quality to them. In watching a play, we are not simply watching people do things; we are attending to the play as a thing that is more than the collection of actions performed. The play seems to have an existence beyond the human endeavor that instantiates it. It is simultaneously more and less than human: more because it's superordinate to human action and less because it's a mere object, lacking the evident subjectivity we prize in the human being.

Keep reading... Show less

Gabin's Maigret lets everyone else emote, sometimes hysterically, until he vents his own anger in the final revelations.

France's most celebrated home-grown detective character is Georges Simenon's Inspector Jules Maigret, an aging Paris homicide detective who, phlegmatically and unflappably, tracks down murderers to their lairs at the center of the human heart. He's invariably icon-ified as a shadowy figure smoking an eternal pipe, less fancy than Sherlock Holmes' curvy calabash but getting the job done in its laconic, unpretentious, middle-class manner.

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

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