When the impetuous for starting a band is centered around the hyper-specific idea of paying homage to experimental noise and 1980s Chicago house music, it’s understandable the sound can become repetitive, and that’s exactly the case with Soft Metals’ debut album. To their advantage though, it’s often a breathtaking and supremely polished repetition.
The Portland duo of Ian Hicks and Patricia Hall have long been working towards this debut, coming together in 2009 and sharing a love for early synthesizer music, Soft Metals gained attention for last year’s The Cold World Melts EP. Sadly, however, their sound has barely evolved since then, sticking ever-so-closely to formula of piling synth upon synth and relying upon Hall’s vocals as a way of deviating from monotony. A bit of variety would have been nice, since most of the album’s tracks clock in over five minutes, an exhausting length of time if you’re trying to listen all the way through Soft Metals. Continuity and cohesiveness is crucial to an album’s success, so it is hard to fault Soft Metals for creating a singular sound, but when that sound is so rarely expanded or experimented upon, it can become a boring piece of work for any listener.
The few times the album tries and work outside of it’s rigid boundaries, the results are varied at best. Plastered in the middle of the album is “Hold My Breath,” a mix of bad 90s Fatboy Slim and synth-house, and a glaring mistake that could have easily been done away with. “Hold My Breath” is so brief and different from the rest of Soft Metals that it not only sticks out like a sore thumb but it also makes you realize just how identical the rest of the album is. In the case of the album’s closing track “The Throes,” though, Soft Metals show promise in their ability to master a different, more dark, sound. Layered with more glitchy synth patterns and a brilliant build-up and crash to end the album, Hicks and Hall stumble upon, whether by accident or not, their most intriguing piece yet.
But for as much criticism as Soft Metals deserves, it all comes constructively. There is absolutely no denying that both Hicks and Hall have amazing talent and a passion for the type of music they are inspired by, it would just benefit the album and their future if they can find a way to push their sound to a more unique and experimental level. Soft Metals shows a ton of potential, and each track is polished with care, but it is hard to overcome the album’s mostly simple pattern.