Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Record review: Soft Speaker - 'I'll Tend Your Garden'

Posted by Sasha Geffen

For four milkmen from 1930s Austria, Soft Speaker had a preternatural grasp on the electric guitar.

The band's first LP I'll Tend Your Garden is bursting with juicy riffs, sheets of fuzz and spacey crescendos. Soft Speaker conjure huge, solid rock songs injected with a healthy dose of Anglophilia.

While Garden offers little that's unprecedented in terms of bare writing, those who love rock from our neighbors across the pond won't be disappointed. The band strikes that tone that's simultaneously upbeat and a little mournful, much like we've seen over the years from Blur and neo-natal Radiohead. That's not to call this mimicry; Soft Speaker take brit-rock aesthetics and break them out of the walls of pop structure, instead letting the single-coils warble into the stratosphere. The record finds strength in moments of improvisation, like in the playful and pedal-fueled climax of "Three Beggars." Guitars swirl over clean and punchy bass as the licks fractal outward. While the sounds may be familiar, they're applied to a larger scope than we normally hear.

The album's second epic "For a Handsome Price" gets a running start with its churning bassline and wailing guitars before falling away in the chorus to gentle '60s harmonies. It's a nice mashup of sounds, as if Belle & Sebastian switched on a stack and cranked the distortion for seven minutes. Though the core structure is simple, the song carries its length without reaching the end of its tether.

The record rests on an oddity just before its climax: "Felician Sisters Convent" comprises only percussion, most of it melodic, for its two minute length. While a little confounding, it does give us a moment to gear up for the record's finale, the eight-and-a half-minute "Pagan Pastimes." Driving and loud, the track spews hot fuzz guitar for most of its length. It may be the least structured of Garden's giants, but effects junkies will certainly get their fix.

I'll Tend Your Garden is a step in a compelling direction. Soft Speaker are beginning to forge an exciting sound, building upon brit-rock with manic ambition.

The record is set for release on April 19th.


Check out more record reviews:
Daniel Knox - Evryman for Himself
Architecture - When We Were Young
Whales - self-titled LP
The Bright White - Until Then

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