Soft Science: Maps (Test Pattern Records, 2018)
Well, it’s warm outside, road trips are all in the planning stages, and summer soundtracks are being shaped by the sounds coming out of speakers. The albums played during this time will be the sounds of nostalgia years down life’s road and Maps is certainly one of those albums that should occupy some of that air time. As the first two singles “Undone” and “Sooner” indicate, it was clear that Soft Science’s third album was going to be something special. Swirling, atmospheric, heady, and dreamy, Maps is what dreampop was meant to be. Soaring guitars drift over perfect percussion with soft, lilting vocals. For those of you new to Soft Science, the band is a quintet made up of Katie Haley, Matt Levine, Mason DeMusey, Ross Levine, and Tony Cale. The band hails from Sacramento, California.
Maps starts with one of the singles they released ahead of the album: “Undone”. It’s a killer lead in to the album, shimmering and whirling with synth sounds, chiming guitars, and sugar-coated vocals. “Undone” is an instant dreampop classic. “Breaking” has a killer 80’s feel with horn and that 80’s club danceable new-wave beat. It’s like The Go-Go’s got dipped in some epic dreampop magic dust and came out so much better. Haley’s vocals are just captivating at every turn and flow so well with the brilliant musical sorcery of Levine, DeMusey, Levine, and Cale. “Diverging” gets the groove on from the get go with a killer bass-line and driving percussion. Guitars explode on this track into a dreamy wall of sound, whirling and diving until they are left with feedback and screeching over synthy drones.
“There” changes the pace a bit, as the guitars slow down the tempo and they shimmer. Haley’s vocal melodies are ear worms here as this slow, contagious “ballad” unfolds. “Apart” continues a sort of theme in this section of the album with a slower, melancholier feel. Tambourine shimmers in time with the percussion and sparser bass work. Guitars play poppier lines that give way to a rock feeling solo. There’s a lot going on here even though it feels simple when put together. This leads into the second single from the album “Sooner”. It picks up the groove once again and hammers home a brilliant dreampop piece. The hooks in this song are just amazingly executed. This is one of those tracks that should be huge on the radio but, perhaps, it’s too good for mass public consumption.
“Know” leads the listener into the later parts of Maps with a raucous piece full of galloping percussion and fuzzy drenched shimmering guitars. There is a post-punk feel here with the huge guitars and percussion style. It’s only tampered by the bright, ghostly vocals but everything feels like an 80’s alternative hit and it’s so wonderful. “Still” moves back into early girl pop territory with bright melodies and insanely infectious hooks. This is pop but in all the right ways. Again, so many of these tracks should be hits. “Enough” washes out the guitars into a stream of droning reverb. Drums and bass provide a scaffolding for the vocal melodies to soar over as the stream of sound moves forward. There is even an O.M.D. inspired synth feel here. “Slip” is the finale to Maps and it’s a brief anthem that really sums up the feel of the album.
Soft Science’s third outing is a wonderful addition to their catalog and to the dreampop genre in general. Full of whirling, bright, ethereal moments, Maps is a dreampop vision with ten tracks, each worthy of being a single. If you are a fan of dreampop, Maps is for you. If you aren’t, Maps will make you a fan of the genre for sure! Get a copy of Maps on vinyl or digital at Soft Science’s Bandcamp linked below!
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