One of the most effective ways, I’ve decided, to establish a difference between Soft Speaker’s I’ll Tend Your Garden — their fantastic debut LP from earlier in the year — and an upcoming followup, Vortrobos, is by comparing a tune from each.
This is despite both songs being, to the average listener, rather unorthodox choices for analysis.
Take “Felician Sisters Convent” from I’ll Tend Your Garden, a more or less musical land bridge between the half hour’s worth of jam that came before it and the album’s eight-and-a-half-minute “Pagen Pastimes” outro.
Some might confuse the two-minute “Convent” as the album’s whimsical sore thumb since its lead instruments (dueling xylophones) clashes greatly next to I’ll Tend Your Garden’s otherwise guitars-heavy sensibilities. If this be the case, then fuck those perplexed souls. They’re missing out on something real good.
I adore “Felician Sisters Convent.” It’s a blip of fluff and fun, and commands your undivided attention for being, simply, such an oddball oddity. It’s a song that shant — because it altogether can’t — be taken seriously.
Vastly different, but in ways comparably similar, is the title track to Vortrobos. A scoche longer than “Convent,” “Vortrobos” is a gothic shoegaze that, like “Convent,” has zero supporting vocals. And in place of those happy pappy xylophones are an organ and psych guitars that, played together, craft a genuine sense of disturbing milieu.
So, what I mean to say here is the sound in Soft Speaker’s next LP is, generally, darker than its predecessor. Its tunes are more demanding to me and taxing on my ears because intensity seems to have shot up considerably.
Darkness isn’t a decidedly good nor bad thing, it just is. But for me, the shift robs Vortrobos of much of the whimsy founded in I’ll Tend Your Garden.
You see, I’ll Tend Your Garden sort of floats along with a kind of improv about it that I hadn’t confronted in new music in quite a while. Take any tune — “Three Beggars,” “For a Handsome Price” — and you’ll notice that they begin one way and then flip and twist into something else (and something else) on their way to their lengthy finishes. (Three songs eclipse seven minutes). These are dynamic songs; some of them all but impossible to determine where they might next go within their allotted runtimes.
Fortunately, Soft Speaker included a song in Vortrobos that does this well. It’s “Jeju Island” — listen here — and man, what a delightful tune. It’s everything an I’ll Tend Your Garden track is: catchy, bright and unexpected. I’d consider it a sister of “For a Handsome Price,” even.
Vortrobos also has what might be the best song in Soft Speaker’s growing catalog. The track, “Ask the Guild,” is afforded surpluses of space to roam and breathe — an attribute I so love about the music of Soft Speaker. “Guild” isn’t in any real hurry to get anywhere at all and, mutating itself many times over, transcends “Pagen Pastimes.”
This would be the short list of things I really liked about Vortrobos. Much of the rest I could enjoy, but not on the order of what I remember so fondly about I’ll Tend Your Garden. An intentional sense of spontaneity I think I miss most.
A reason it felt appropriate to compare Vortrobos so closely to I’ll Tend Your Garden is that they were released so closely together. It’s a rarity to have a band pump out two LPs in a year, but that’s what we get here with Soft Speaker. While recorded in 2010, the nine-track I’ll Tend Your Garden went public in late March/early April. Vortrobos goes live on Tuesday.
I think bands always benefit in the long run when they get as much mileage as they can out of their recordings before marching into the studio for more stuff to play. For an album, then, to already supersede a disc as nice as I’ll Tend Your Garden feels puzzling. Yet the quality of both is a testament to what Soft Speaker is capable of.
So I preferred one over the other — big whoop; that has to happen. I think the greater takeaway is what we get in return for listening to a band like Soft Speaker. I’ll Tend Your Garden and Vortrobos will both get play in whatever my year-end lists will be come December and that, I think, is a worthy consideration.
- Soft Speaker, based in Chicago, is: Joe Daley, Paul Foreman, Blair Douglass and Nick Rocchio.
- Listen: “Jeju Island” and “Ask the Guild.”
- Check out our review of I’ll Tend Your Garden penned by ex-Chicago Tunes writer Josh Terzino. It appeared here in late March.
- Soft Speaker headlines a record-release show on Saturday, November 19 at Beat Kitchen (w/ supporting acts Secret Colours, Hotel St. George and Headshadow). Tickets are $8.
“Oldie” but a goodie — “For a Handsome Price”