Most people will probably agree that there’s nothing wrong with having a little passion in one’s work. Most understand it as an energy that often keeps us focused, that insists on a certain attention to detail. Since their formation in 2003 the members of the Brooklyn-based band Soft, have made a point to distinguish (and simultaneously market) themselves through such patiently engrossed craftsmanship.
Comprised of five friends — vocalist Johnny Reineck, guitarists Vincent Perini and Sam Wheeler, bassist Dino Siampos, and drummer Chris Colley — this shoegazing collective take their time to get things just right. Back in September of 2003 when the band first came together, Soft indulged their musical aspirations by spending over a year holed up in a tiny practice space, working five nights a week writing music, all without making a single live appearance. While their secluded attentiveness would eventually come to fruition with a self-titled EP, by early 2005 the band had already retreated to the studio again to prep their full-length debut. Once more Soft worked compulsively on every aspect of the album, this time spending over two years writing and recording new material.
Gone Faded, the band’s finished product, is a work filled with ethereal melodies and lush production. Unfortunately, Gone Faded is not a testament to hard work, but ultimately how too much fervor in one’s labor can be twisted into something that doesn’t pay off like it should. Soft spent so much time obsessing and perfecting their sound, they never stopped to consider how much of it wasn’t even their own.
When Soft isn’t reproducing the spacey blueprint of Kevin Shields and My Bloody Valentine, the band wades neck deep in the signature style of ’90s Britpop. Like Aussie rockers Jet when they want to be Oasis instead of AC/DC, Soft come off like they had somehow completed a joint thesis paper on the genius of “Champagne Supernova”. Throughout every one of Gone Faded‘s 11 tracks there isn’t at least one nod to the Gallagher brothers’ influence.
Perhaps the worst offender of particular this banality is the song, “You Make Me Wanna Die”. With an opening guitar riff straight from “Don’t Go Away”, the song skitters along like breaking glass. While other songs are less obvious in their stylistic replication, they are no more culpable in their sonic weakness. Reineck once confessed to reworking and tweaking “Droppin'” countless times before settling on a version he liked. The longest song on the album, “Droppin'” features a minute-long build-up layered with spacey guitar echoes, high-hat chinks, and a grumbling bass-line. But when the arrangement finally decides to go somewhere, it falls numbingly flat with any substantial hook.
In some regards, the songs off Gone Faded wouldn’t be so jarringly difficult to listen to if it weren’t for the real crux of the problem: the voice of singer Johnny Reineck. Warbling his vocals like someone who accidentally came in contact with dental Novocain, Reineck sounds like a timid doppelganger of Liam Gallagher. While Liam’s tenacious sneer would undoubtedly approach Soft’s songs in a comprehensible register, and with enough oomph to make them feel as big as they’re supposed to, Reineck shies away from the foreground with an unintelligible whine.
If you do the math, this hard-working quintet spent over three years doing what most bands typically reserve for when they’ve sold millions of records and look to build a certain amount of anticipation for their next effort. While it’s admirable that the members of Soft have such confidence in their work, it won’t carry over to the majority of listeners. Pop music songwriting shouldn’t be about such obsessive perfection. It should be about capturing a great, imperfect moment of audio that has it’s own unique energy. Soft spent so much time playing doctor trying to fix every fault, they wound up leaving their body of work scarred from the treatment.