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Steadily Blown Away – “Lines” from Northern California’s Soft Science

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Artists are called artists only if they evolve. Those that don’t? That hit upon some pre-fab, zeitgeisty style that promises millions whether or not it delivers them? They’re called careerists. It’s a crucial distinction in every medium but nowhere perhaps as pointedly as in so-called pop music which, for the sake of clarity, we’ll include rock’n’roll and all its offshoots and anything else this side of vapid, rabid, formulaic attention grabs premised on some loose definition of virality and TikTok followers. And even with that parameter set there’s still a wide variance at play on the artist side of the divide ranging in level of commitment from hobbyist-level dabblers to the full-on devoted and among the latter let us introduce you to (should they hitherto escaped your notice) NorCal’s esteemed and dynamic Soft Science.

Formed over fourteen years ago from California Oranges alumni Katie Haley and the brothers Levine (Ross and Matt) then eventually joined by Tony and Becky Cole from Arts & Leisure and electronics whiz Hans Munz, their sound has gently if steadily expanded over the course of three full-lengths and a handful of singles into the assured and subtly intricate force of nature heard on their latest LP Lines, available on a trio of labels depending where you live (Shelflife here in the States, Spinout Nuggets in the UK and Fastcut Records in Japan), a fact that itself points to the – deserved – universality of the band’s appeal. It’s an appeal made evident in strokes both broad and acute on the band’s fourth – and first in twelve years – full-length released in the last gasp of last summer.*

Coming in low with, umm, “Low,” a dark and moodily thrumming dream of a track that earns its likely unintended Bowiesque inferences, the track in any case carries an attention-getting resonance that never really abates thenceforth. Were it their intention to establish straight off that Soft Science is back, mastery intact, well, yeah, mission bloody accomplished.

As if thus emboldened, the band then bursts – if with a certain adept delicacy – into “Grip,” its contours seemingly shaped as if to underscore an adjacency between shoegaze and the sparkle of, say, the Cranberries that’s perhaps gone previously unnoted. It’s also worth mentioning, by the way, that your correspondent muttered just now as if over his own his own shoulder ‘and what a great fucking melody’ which he would lay odds won’t be the last time during the course of writing this review, odds that naught but a fool would for even a second consider taking.

“Deceiver” brings the phrase ‘a lilting boldness’ into the critical lexicon, “Sadness,” roaring, lithe, makes ringingly clear why this band was just about the best candidate ever to cover House of Love’s “I Don’t Know Why I Love You,” an opinion further solidified by the majestic, guitar-slashed melody line that rises like a slice of revelation on following track “Kerosene” and by this point, trusted reader, you get the gist. We could go further, tell you how blasty and bewitching “Hands” is or how “True” possibly takes this album’s proverbial cake by prefacing its otherwise genre-defining dynamism (again, that melody!) with a quick intro of playful Kraftwerk-like vintage synth computer pop but why? What needs be gotten you get, so let’s end with this:

Readers of a certain vintage (and likely those younger; it’s made the rounds) will recall those iconic Maxell print ads, guy slouched there facing his stereo and getting blown back in his chair, hair flowing out behind him as he holds on for dear delirious life. Lines could easily be what he’s listening to, end of story.

[find Lines here on Shelflife, here on Spinout Nuggets, or here on Fastcut Records] [* – Do please pardon our delay. SEM’s senior editor – ie your author – moved house this past summer/fall and not just across town but 370 miles away, an effort damn near biblical in scope, not least due the (ahem) 14 boxes of vinyl]