Soft Swells’ “Soft Swells”

“Soft Swells’ Self Titled debut is a perfect accompanying soundtrack for a long road trip on a beautiful day from start to finish.” -CB

Cameron Barham
Soft Swells 2

out of 10

Soft Swells
Soft Swells
February 28, 2012
Modern Outsider

The term “cinematic” is oft abused within the context of reviewing music as is the term “soundtrack.” However, it would be almost impossible to avoid using either term in reference to the new self-titled album from Soft Swells released on Modern Outsider Records. I can imagine Zach Braff (of “The Garden State” and “Scrubs” fame) being inspired to make another film based on this record.

Soft Swells is the joint effort of Tim Williams and Matt Welsh who recorded this record in a little over a week with Dave Lynch in Lewes, England. The duo was aided by Dave Lynch on keys, Jono Johnston on bass, and the excellent drum stylings of Phil Wilkinson. Williams had previously released 4 solo albums and an EP which had garnered him a fair amount of buzz and credibility from various tracks being featured on television shows. Welsh played guitar for the alt-country band Phonograph which released 2 full-length albums. Despite the short length of time the pair have been together and that it took to record the album, this is a well produced album of confidently executed music. If you like Rogue Wave, Band of Horses, the City on Film, or the National, then you will really enjoy this album.

The opening track, “Every Little Thing” is a near perfect single. Williams laments over a National-esque guitar riff, “I sit and watch everything just fall through my hands” before dynamically bursting into, “Every little things gonna be alright, Every little thoughts gonna keep its light.” The song trails back to, “Time before I kept a score, there was blood in my hands” before declaring again, “Every little things gonna be alright, Every little wound’s gonna heal up tight.” The sonic landscape of the song is filled in with distorted drum beats, handclaps, synthesizer, acoustic, and electric guitars producing the perfect locale for Williams’ vocals. (1 point with a .5 point bonus for putting it all together so well).

The second track “Overrated” is one of the records few missteps. The synth-pop line is reminiscent of something from “Napoleon Dynamite,” and the lyrics are too repetitive and basic (i.e. “I’m not feeling you up, just to run home and tell my friends, I’m not peeling you off, just to see the sun burn your skin”). The song seems almost out of place among the other stronger tracks. (-.5 points)

The album picks back up speed and dynamic with “Put It on the Line” with driving synths, drums, and haunting guitar chords all reminiscent of the Jesus and Mary Chain. The song ends a bit repetitively which is a consistent criticism of this album. (.5 points)

“Say It Like You Mean It” regains the strength of the first track by opening with an interesting off time acoustic guitar riff before exploding into the musical and vocal charge. The indie rock-brooding synth swagger continues through “Shake It Off,” “Don’t Cut It Off,” and “Never Leave Home” that would be expected from a band that had been together for a long time and was hitting their musical stride. (4 points total)

The pace slows a bit for the final three tracks and provides an excellent contemplative finish to an excellent debut from Soft Swells. “Make It Go Away” features a hitching circular drum beat chased by the base line. (.5 points) “Lifeboats” finds Williams reflecting over poppy synths and perfectly off-time drum beats, “There is a lesson here, that comes from far away; I have a lot to learn, I have a lot to say”. (.75 points) The album gently closes with “Decisions” in which Williams sings “Decisions that got you here, take you so far away, miles of road to burn, speeding a life away”. (1 point)

Soft Swells’ Self Titled debut is a perfect accompanying soundtrack for a long road trip on a beautiful day from start to finish.

-Cameron Barham, March 21, 2012