Soak: Grim Town (Rough Trade)

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Knock Me Off My Feet
Soak: Grim Town (Rough Trade)
It has seemed a lifetime (four years) for this young Irish singer-songwriter to follow up her slightly uneven but impressive debut album Before We Forgot How to Dream.

If that album suffered a little from some arch poetry it was forgivable, she was 18 when the album came out so those were pieces written when she was 17 and probably still in school.

Now 22 and with some serious growing up behind her – not to mention touring, acclaim, a Mercury Prize nomination, staring down media sometimes more interested in her being gay than the songs – this album under a glum title not only sounds bristling with confidence (and some really smart pop songs) but loaded with serious self-questioning and astute observations.

The 14 songs – there's a spoken word introduction by her grandad welcoming us on this journey to Grim Town – are anticipated by last year's assertive but downbeat single Everybody Loves You (“not me, no way, I don't work that way”) and two subsequent singles which are addictively poppy: the chugging and danceable electro-pop of Knock Me Off My Feet and the atmospheric and poetic Valentine Smalentine which opens so understated and quiet that you can't imagine radio giving it much time at all.

The most recent single – and they are all included here – is the more uptempo Deja Vu although it is lyrically loaded with ennui and is melancholy to the point of almost being morose. Lines like “there's no heaven in front of me, a neon light catastrophe . . . nothing's new, deja vu” read more depressing than they sound when delivered over smart upbeat pop.

So there's a lot of levels going on here and Soak – Bridie Monds-Watson – here clearly announces she is an album artist who can skewer with withering accuracy (“I know that look, your puppy eyes, like your forehead has a vacancy sign” on Life Trainee), offer some sharp observations (YBFTBYT with “you're pissing by a public Stop sign . . . I'm not the only one in crisis”) and maybe just a tad too much self-pity in places.

What redeems that latter point is how this album reads as a song cycle from that bleak and emotionally flat intro by grandad (“please surrender any faith, aspiration or optimism to platform staff”) to the final piece Nothing Looks The Same in which she embraces a positive change (“I don't wish I was somewhere else all the time”)

And grandad returns with a more uplifting resolution as the train departs Grim Town (which might be her hometown of Derry which she loves but finds oppressive) : “Breathe deeply, feel your heart fill with joy. . . everything will be alright in the end.”

Her final lines are, “Now I've changed the frame nothing looks the same”.

81DJuC_AGML._SY355_Grim Town showcases the more mature but still reflective, thoughtful Soak who also understand how music can liberate, as he does in the balance of ballads and clubland.

This is impressive on many levels and captures post-adolescent confusion as much as a young adult finding her feet and emotions.

Note: The beautifully packaged double vinyl edition of this album comes with a bonus single: Talk of the Town and IOU, the former a dreamy pop ballad with increasingly atmospheric vocals (which reminds a little of a less mannered Princess Chelsea after a dose of Sparks) and the latter a pop ballad given an expansive setting with big beats and guitar. It's a cracker.

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