Los Angeles based duo SOFT METALS’ 2011 eponymous debut album was a promising collection of danceable bubbly electronics with one foot in the squelch ‘n’ bleep framework of ORBITAL and the other in more experimental climes such as THROBBING GRISTLE and SECTION 25. Wonderful tracks like ‘Eyes Closed’, ‘Psychic Driving’, ‘Do You Remember?’ and ‘Voices’ showcased Patricia Hall angelically vulnerable voice over Ian Hicks’ inventive vintage synth and drum machine interplay.
However, some of the album’s other tracks were slightly on the repetitive side so for their second album ‘Lenses’, the tracklisting has been rationalised to eight key musical constituents in just 37 minutes. Layered with reverbed sequences and driven by the snap of analogue rhythm composers, ‘Lenses’ continues where ‘Soft Metals’ left off and visually, the artwork follows the continuity of its predescessor as if to indicate this.
Like ASTRUD GILBERTO gone electro with CHRIS & COSEY at the production helm, the ‘Lenses’ title track sets the scene and is vibrant yet dreamy. The wonderful launch single ‘Tell Me’ is one of the duo’s trademark adventures in hypnotism like earlier single ‘Voices’ but adds some unsettling bursts of portamento for an aural twist.
Easing off the tempo slightly with a strange, almost electro-reggae beat, ‘When I Look Into Your Eyes’ is sexily morbid with Patricia Hall exclaiming “I wonder how it ends?” when “I die and he dies, we all die!”. Following that, ‘No Turning Back’ builds with pulsing arpeggios but swathed in a bare, eerie atmosphere, it retains the ice maiden quality prevalent throughout the SOFT METALS sound.
SOFT METALS are adept as instrumentals as ‘Celestial Call’ from the debut and their ‘Close Encounters Of The Third Kind’ tribute ‘Implanted Visions’ have proved. ‘Hourglass’ allows Hall to take a breather and this beautiful wordless wonder sections nicely with some fabulous harmonic oscillations. This vibrancy continues on ‘In The Air’, another metallically tingly and danceable tune that harks back to the days of acid house. Also, complimented by that hard acid squelch, ‘On A Cloud’ does what it says on the tin and ventures into neo-ambient territory despite its lively tempo construction. But ‘Interobserver’ goes the full hog with a lengthy surrealistic journey that throws in the spectre of cosmic legend KLAUS SCHULZE. It’s all very brave but quite whether it belongs on an album of songs though is debatable.
But overall, where SOFT METALS will appeal over other girl / boy duos is that their approach is quite visceral. How many times is does it seem XENO & OAKLANDER are deliberately singing off-key, that CRYSTAL CASTLES are being as difficult as possible by piling on the distortion or that TOMORROW’S WORLD won’t up the tempo in case it’s seen as uncool? With their Eurocentric influences, shadowy techno template and altered state of escapism, SOFT METALS make the best of what they’ve got and run with it. Between their first two albums, Ian Hicks and Patricia Hall have showed their potential and proved they can produce some excellent work. When they push all the right buttons, SOFT METALS are quite superb.
They undertake an extensive tour of the USA and Canada through late July, August and early September
Text by Chi Ming Lai
Photos by Suzy Poling
15th July 2013