To begin with, attention must be paid to Soft Hair’s glorious album artwork. I’m still not quite sure how to articulate the mixture of repulsion and attraction that I experience whilst gazing upon this work. It just about reflects how I feel about the album itself. This listener-reaction is perhaps intentional: Soft Hair themselves have described the sounds of their debut album as “unconventionally attractive”. I think they’ve hit the nail on the head.
“Much of the record oscillates between catchy synth-pop and something a little more experimental”
Soft Hair opens with the well-placed ‘Relaxed Lizard’. It’s funky and upbeat, with a glitch beat that adds a nice structure to the falsetto vocals. In the spirit of weirdness, I suggest you imagine that the first verse is sung by the aforementioned Lizard, who is stretched out on a chaise lounge as he or she croons the high-pitched melody. It feels right somehow. In actuality, it is the voice of Connan Mockasin, one-half of the Soft Hair collaboration.
The other half is Sam Dust, known artistically under the moniker LA Priest. ‘Relaxed Lizard’ is grounded nicely by Dust’s baritone. This is especially prominent towards the end of the track. Dust’s emotive repetition of “oh, to be the real thing…” cuts through the layers of wackiness. It’s a sudden moment of stark sincerity; one of many charming details that lift this album up above the masses.
“Soft Hair are unreservedly explorative, both in sound and content.”
Both members of Soft Hair are working musicians in their own right, so it’s unsurprising to learn that this self-titled record has been several years in the making. While Soft Hair is very concise (totalling only 32 minutes of running time), it is clear that time has been taken over the composition and construction of this densely layered album.
Single ‘Lying Has to Stop’ is a highlight. Like much of the record, this track oscillates between catchy synth-pop and something a little more experimental. What raises ‘Lying Has to Stop’ up above some other parts of the record is its relative coherence. A wobbly thread of pulsating beats runs through the track (though thin at times).
Soft Hair are unreservedly explorative, both in sound and content. Their Bandcamp profile explains that this debut effort was created “using methods that neither Mockasin nor Dust had used previously”. Soft Hair are also keenly experimental with the boundaries of style and androgyny, perhaps best exhibited in the music video for ‘Lying Has to Stop’.
Soft Hair is well-produced: transitions go by so smoothly that they’re almost undetectable. Tracks are prone to drastic yet indiscernible mutations. ‘Jealous Lies’ and ‘In Love’ are perfect examples. The latter begins with a slow, muted beat and distant vocals that sound as if they’re being sung underwater. This morphs seamlessly into a groovy bass line which is overlapped by expressive David Bowie-inspired vocals. At points, it almost feels like Soft Hair are just doing a Bowie impression. It’s a pretty good one though.
It’s incredibly easy to get lost listening to Soft Hair (which is difficult when you’re attempting to capture it within a review). Whilst listening to ‘Alive Without Medicine’ I found myself grasping in vain at catchy hooks: they tend to rear their heads just for a few moments before fading back into obscurity. However, if you actually are looking to be transported, I suggest drifting to the atmospheric sounds of ‘l.i.v.’, the dreamy album closer.
“In amongst the freaky grooves hide exciting nuances.”
It should be noted that Soft Hair don’t ever allow you to relax completely. Each track has been injected with a generous number of icky moments. Prepare to shudder at lyrics like “I like to watch you run, but I’ll never touch your bum”. There are also plenty of silly voices and mid-verse fillers of the “Ooo, mmm, yeah!” variety.
As a whole, Soft Hair’s debut is a beautifully strange piece of work. In amongst the freaky grooves hide exciting nuances. It’s difficult to predict the longevity of a record after such a short period of time, but I’m tempted to say that there are yet more details to discover. It’s reasonable to expect that Soft Hair is a one-off collaboration for Mockasin and Dust. If that’s true, so be it. It’s might just be a stamp in time, but it’s unique and – most importantly – it’s thoroughly enjoyable.
Image courtesy of Soft Hair via Facebook