This may be the most unusual thing I’ve encountered in the months that I’ve been writing for this blog. Taking a page from the rock mythology creation guide of 70’s rockers, Soft Speaker have built an entire universe for themselves in which they exist as ex-pats making it huge in Austria in the 30’s. They’ve crafted an interesting backstory involving a milkmen society, and a cat-selling business that I find both brilliant and humorous for different reasons.
Their music could not, however, sound less Austrian. It does find some of it’s roots in the UK, though. It’s a gloomier form of pop, to be certain. I’m reminded of bands like Joy Division or Echo and the Bunnymen initially…but then the guitars. They just come at you like a bull. There is some really great work on display here, as Paul Foreman blazes through tracks like “For a Handsome Prince” and “Geronimo’s Only Defense.”
If I had to peg it down to something, and it will sound completely random and stupid, but I’m completely serious, it would be this: Joy Division meets Blue Oyster Cult, with just a hint of (insert jam band here-for my purposes I’ll say Disco Biscuits because I’ve never written that name anywhere before). I know that seems like an impossible combination, but that’s what I hear.
Normally I would not find that an appealing recipe, but the folks in Soft Speaker are talented enough to keep me listening. They’ve had the good fortune of getting good buzz from the likes of AV Club and my good personal best friend Jim DeRogatis (not true-he does like the band, we are not best friends), and I can see why.
I mentioned the guitars already, but there’s much more to it than that. The vocals are hushed-almost always. I don’t know why they chose to record it that way, but it gives the whole record a kind of mystery that would have been lost if they were brought to the forefront. It’s almost as if Nick Rocchio exists in some other dimension that we can hear but never see.
There’s a ton of atmospheric production detail to heighten an already pretty out there record, and I can’t really complain about that either. At a few points it feels like maybe something could have been cut out before mastering, but really that’s the artist’s choice, not mine. An example would be “Felician Sisters Convent.” I think the album would be just as good without it. At a little under two minutes, it doesn’t really add anything, and as an instrumental, it doesn’t seem necessary to bridge the gap between “Geronimo’s Only Defense” and “Pagen Pastimes.”
“Pagen Pastimes” may just be my favorite track on this release. Remember a while back when I did a bunch of short capsule reviews of music my friend Jeff gave me? Well this track reminds me a ton of one of the songs off Umberto’s record From The Grave. Especially the beginning, with just the fuzzy guitar and synths. Crazy spooky stuff. And the vocals really pay off on this one, because if it were left an instrumental, I probably would have thought it was a ripoff of that great Umberto album.
Again, Paul Foreman’ guitar blasts off into outerspace and stays there long enough to give Jupiter a second great red spot.
Now the hard part…do I recommend this album? Yes. It isn’t for everyone, but I think if you like flashy guitar with enough fuzz to start another precinct of the police department, you would dig it a lot. I also think that if you’re a fan of any of the bands I’ve mentioned during this review, you should give I’ll Tend Your Garden a shot.
- Soft Speaker is local to Chicago. The band is comprised of: Blair Douglass (Electric Bass Guitar), Nick Rocchio (Vocals, synths/organ, guitar), Joe Daley (Drums), and Paul Foreman (Guitar, vocals, synths/organ)
- The record release show for I’ll Tend Your Garden is Friday at Empty Bottle. Soft Speaker will be playing with Chicago Tunes favorite California Wives.