Available on: Captured Tracks LP
Ever heard any Ladytron? Or College from the Drive soundtrack: that kind of smoky, affectless strain of kohl-eyed art-tronica? Well, to cut a long story short, what we have in Soft Metals’ second album is like that, only married with late ’80s/early ’90s dance music. And pretty snazzy it is too – so much more than just synth-pop with a house beat.
In terms of cross-pollinating the two styles, the L.A. dup’s second album isn’t always an even split. At one end of the spectrum is the beautifully balanced ‘In The Air’. A shoe-in for lead single and, for good or ill, a true one-off, it takes a special kind of talent to make a track sound at once like The Orb and OMD, with the tone stranded between contained angst and e-phoria. The album’s title track, meanwhile, locates the secret bloodline between Tangerine Dream and acid house, like the music of an alternative reality where instead of techno, EBM and new beat, dark ’80s synthpop evolved into house. At the other end of the spectrum, however, is ‘No Turning Back’, essentially a desolate coldwave ballad that merely replaces coldwave’s post-punk-indebted bass guitar, live drums and neoclassical synths with token dance sounds: hi-hat, Goa-trance sequencer loops, Leftfield-esque bass.
Somewhere in the middle there are tracks in which, stuck for a way to blur the two massively different aesthetics into a coherent dance song, the duo will instead structure the composition into stylistic sections, and cut back and forth. The transitions are remarkably fluid, notably on ‘Tell Me’ as the track switches from balmy bleepy house to fatalistic coldwave organ without missing a beat – from the cobbled streets of Ibiza Old Town to the alabaster wastelands of Mitteleuropa and back again in one fell swoop.
The trusty Roland TB-303 makes one of its many appearances on ‘Hourglass’, Lenses most ‘dance’ track wherein icy arpeggios meet oceanic Hacienda pads and Roland squelch, like A Guy Named Gerald rushing off Soft Cell. Don’t dust your glow-sticks off quite yet, however: this is low BPM, relatively funk-less stuff – home listening house sung by a pallid chanteuse whose lyrical preoccupations include death and dispassion, and a dance sound more concerned with atmosphere, period detail and inchoately pleasant textures than with servicing your feet. Which, as it happens, is often the case with these indie-turned-dance American acts, from Chromatics to the 100% Silk roster to Blondes and the Italians Do It Better label. At any rate, only a band of former indie rockists would do an eight minute prog-house track you can’t dance to, as is the case with Lenses’ closer ‘Interobserver’.
Away from the genre splicing are tracks like ‘On A Cloud’: closer in presentation to the raw ‘minimal wave’ aesthetic of Captured Tracks’ spiritual sister imprint, Wierd, and perhaps a mite more portent than the hybrid tracks due to their mono-thematic purity. Indeed, while the new forms forged from the genre manipulation here begets novelty and, yeah, interesting music, ultimately you’re left feeling unfulfilled. A spin, a twist on a genre – or technically two in this case – isn’t the same as an evolution, and ultimately the innovation seems inconsequential. Maybe it’s the impression you get of a collection of references, albeit skilfully blended ones – a ‘less than the sum of its parts’ deal? In the end, though, it’s hard to begrudge adventurousness, especially when the end product is this pleasing.