Sympathetic Stupid

Monday, September 25, 2006

Sodastream Stackhat

By an unimaginable coincidence, I need to write about two things both named after icons of the 80s.

Stackhattery is a notable new blog. He's not only posted four times in six weeks, but thrice in the past week! So if anyone wants to read an actively maintained blog, adjust your links now.

Otherwise, stay here and I'm gonna talk about Sodastream.

I've seen their name on gig listings since eternity, it seems, and they're in great company, friends with bands I love like Khancoban, Art of Fighting and Grand Salvo. But I only actually saw them a week or so ago, on Pat's advice. Like a good kid, I studied up in the two days beforehand by purchasing Reservations, their latest album from earlier this year. By the time I got to the gig on Saturday night, I'd listened enough to be impressed.

By the time I walked out I was truly hooked. So much so that I picked up the previous CD and EP at the show. And then played them 63 times last week, according to Which doesn't include on my iRiver and at home on the CD player.

The music's sumptuous, full-bodied and warm and dark, so much so that it belies their size as a two/three-piece. The core is Karl Smith on guitar and vocals, maybe keys, and Pete Cohen on upright bass, backing vocals, maybe musical saw. They're joined more often than not by Marty Brown, royalty of Art of Fighting and Clare Bowditch, on drums. And various tracks on the album have muted horns sitting in behind, or a single violin, or multi-tracked vocals for extra body and bounce.

The two immediate standouts on the album are the big singalong choruses of Twin Lakes and Reservations, upbeat despite their black subject matter. There's the Simon & Garfunkel picked guitar and soaring vocals of Tickets to the Fight, again pleasant though the refrain is "because I'm starting to hate, girl". But the album generally is a picture of melancholy, creeping along quietly through mental landscapes of sadness and longing. The keystones of this feeling are then Warm July and Firelines. Heated titles, rich music which fills every corner of your eardrums, and constrasts the bleak, lonely subject matter. "Bury me with the things I wouldn't share." "It's already too late to bring you flowers."

And contrast, perfectly melded opposition, is the band's schtick. Karl's pure voice soaring above Pete's subterranean baritone. The light picking guitar part over the pushing bowed bass. The space in the middle filled alternately with strings, horns, keys or so-sensitive touches of brushed kit drums.

All this and a magnificent live show. The boys chat comfortably on stage, then are into the tunes, Pete subsumed into the music with his hair cascading over half his body, it seems, while Karl's penetrating gaze wanders the audience as his heart leaps into space. Marty's there up the back, but despite the lack of any other instruments, they fill the space in all but the quietest songs. Which are unsurprisingly spoiled a little by the usual pay-fifteen-bucks-then-chat-up-the-back crowd. It's a good show when I'm more impressed by the tracks I don't know (the majority of the set) than those I do - Horses, Keith and Tina and Charity Board all great. The build on Horses is amazing live.

These guys are great. Shame they're in Europe till next year.

[MP3 - 3.9MB] Sodastream - Firelines

[buy from the band's site]

Aside: I don't know if this was written immediately after some sort of breakup, but it's an interesting comparison with another recent purchase of mine, Get Lonely by The Mountain Goats, which definitely was. Get Lonely has a stark, empty aesthetic reflecting maybe the unbearable void inside John Darnielle at that time, intensified by the soul-black lyrics. Reservations is different - pain in the words but balm in the music.