Living in Berlin for the last eight years, there’s an element of listlessness to the 10 products of public and private space that is Canadian songwriter Dan Bodan's debut album 'Soft'. Songs like the grateful epithet of the Old World order, Good Time Summer, samples the whine of city trams. Blue-eyed soul number For Heaven’s Sake (Let’s Fall in Love) <3 drowns out a recording of a violent altercation with out-of-tune lounge keys and slightly off, Scott Walker-esque vocals. But aside from those small field inserts – inserts that really could come from any major city – there’s little about the album that ties 'Soft' to a particular place.
Instead, it’s all online and interior, as the malfunctioning machine swagger of Anonymous rises out of a distorted automated announcement, while Bodan’s silky-smooth baritone moans, In faded hues and pixel light / I spend the cash, I pass the night. In fact, the more you listen to 'Soft', the more you realise that this is an album that's less the rosy romance of human interaction that its soulful vibe will have you believe, and more a deeply troubling insight into the alienation and exploitation of modern living.
As an itinerant artist who belongs everywhere and nowhere at once, that sense of disconnection in an ultra-connected contemporary environment comes in the clipped swing of Jaws of Life (I look through files of you and feel ashamed) and the malfunctioning organ chords of what sounds like a love letter to an Apple Store in Rusty (Now you’ve got traction / So run, yeah, run). This is a cultural understanding that other like-minded artists also share – including the likes of M.E.S.H., 18+, Dena Yago, and Physical Therapy, who all contribute production and musicianship anonymously to 'Soft' – and one that bears no singular identifiable element that draws them all together, except for maybe a shared anxiety over a rather bleak present and no better future.
That’s when album standout Catching Fire stumbles out of a sea of rumbling bass on a spiral of discordant synths. Its cheeky reference to the Hunger Games franchise points to the same sense of pending upheaval that the second film – with its own revolutionary political subtext – does. We’re standing on the brink of love / Don’t my fists feel just like tender kisses, Bodan groans into a stream of static. That’s when folk-y album closer Good Time Summer pre-empts a world’s end, with reasons why it needs to, in the most poetic way possible: Well, the wheels run dry with the Euro signs / And market shares are in decline / Question marks make for tired bets / Swollen cocks breed angel heads. It's at this point that 'Soft' breathlessly pronounces that "good time summer" as almost dead and "gone", and we should be so lucky.
Co-Operative/PIAS release 'Soft' on the November 17th 2014 (buy).