Thursday, April 12, 2012

Record review: Sonoi - 'Tropics of Holland'

By Sasha Geffen

In a musical landscape where many bands seem to be making as much noise as they can muster, it's refreshing to see an artist regard silence as a tool rather than an enemy. The latest LP from art-pop trio Sonoi embraces the hollows and the blanks that many musicians might shy away from for fear of trying their listeners' patience.

A sparse dream of quiet country, Sonoi's sophomore effort Tropics of Holland threads together sources from across a wide timeline, from the haunted tones of vintage Americana to Grizzly Bear's swirling chamber-folk to the modes King Crimson used to adopt when they unplugged their guitars and tossed their drums to the side. Rustic guitar licks and full, airy beats play among piano and brass sections so subtle it'll take you a few listens just to realize they're there. A few Yankee Hotel Foxtrot alien flourishes trickle in here and there, but for the most part the decor inside this remote cabin is strictly organic. If a computer ever touched this record, you'd never know it.
As strange and spacious as Tropics of Holland feels, it still boasts some rock-solid pop tunes disguised as Books-stye sonic play. "Fooling the Doves" could be a Decemberists tune run through a bleary Instagram filter and lead single "Cotton" will adhere to your grey matter with its flickery lead guitar tendrils. But for all the songs here, there are almost as many non-songs to make one wonder why just so much space was needed. The four short form "etudes" in the tracklist are minute-long exercises in ambience that are at once lovely and entirely unnecessary. On a noisier record, they might serve as a welcome reprieve or pointed punctuation, but here they serve only to space out the already spacious. Slow, fingerpicked classic rock nods like "Silver Canteen" provide plenty of pause on their own, and there's nothing texturally inside the etudes that can't be found in more interesting places on the record.

But despite the slight smarm that comes with putting tracks called "etudes" on an indie record, Tropics of Holland is a lovely exercise in audiophilia. It's masterfully put together, demands repeated, patient listens, and will likely sound fantastic on vinyl. Those who enjoy excavating records and separating them into all of their subtle, discrete components will find satisfying work to do here.

Tropics of Holland is out now on mp3 and limited edition vinyl. You can pick it up online or at local record stores.

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