The latest album from San Francisco’s SOAR, soft dial tone, is very interested in texture. Sonic texture for sure, like the gentle feedback whine that marks the opening of the album. It took me a while to realize what it reminded me of. When I finally figured it out, I was presented with a very different animal: “Rory Shield,” the opening song from Sorority Noise’s 2014 album Forgettable.
Not that these are the only two songs on earth to start out with feedback, but I think my brain created this word cloud connection because both songs let the noise become part of the song itself, not just to dirty up the tinny smoothness of a studio recording, but to offer a moment of band-geek satisfaction at using the bad noise as the good noise.
The opener of soft dial tone is called “comfort,” but the song is less about finding the thing itself than it is about starting a journey to avoid becoming too reliant on the feeling. “Get out of comfort/welcome to the dirt” sings the band, their voices slipping in and out and in between one another like an ouroboros.
This vocal weaving can be heard through the majority of the LP, and appears to be quite intentional; in the album’s somewhat opaque Bandcamp commentary, the band notes that each member (guitarists Shannon Bodrogi and Jenna Marx, drummer Rebecca Redman, and bassist Mai Oseto) “contributes at least one song to soft dial tone.” Like Carrie Bradshaw, I Couldn’t Help But Wonder: did each member write lyrics of at least one song, or did they independently bring them to fruition with only finishing touches done by the whole band?
“There are common threads that connect each person in SOAR,” the description continues. Going off the album alone, a major connective thread would seem to be a intimate relationship with nature: its easy transition to metaphor, its restorative qualities, and, as mentioned above, its texture.
Nature allows for pain as equally as it does pleasure on soft dial tone. In “corner of a room,” they sing “flat on my back like a stepping stone” before circling back to dirt on the next track, (aptly named “just dirt”) where they wish it upon someone like a poison: “words are just words/dirt is just dirt/but I really hope you eat it.”
“shark skin” is the longest song on the record, and feels very much like its thematic heart. Like “comfort,” the song starts on a note of feedback, but it’s dragged though the background of the track like the wake from a motorboat. Every time it resurfaces, your brain struggles to figure out what it’s hearing, especially when the whole band joins in for supporting vocals that become indiscriminate from the tone itself.
Nature becomes restorative again in “made of gold” which ends on a chant of “paint a statue/put it in a bright room/paint it golden/I feel golden.” This is one of the album’s best moments, where the simpatico of the members — whether musical, personal, or both — shines though like the sun they speak of.
“ghost” is also an album highlight, with short, poetic bursts that stand out even on a first listen: “bigger than the full moon, you/eat around the parts that bruise,” one of the members sing-songs at the end of the first verse. This metaphor carried me through the rest of the song, which somehow manages to be both intimate and ambiguous, a touching three minutes about feeling like an impermanent fixture in someone’s life. In fact, it carried me through the rest of the album, as the metaphors in the last few songs didn’t land with the same effectiveness.
This isn’t to say the LP loses its grip towards the end; soft dial tone remains consistent throughout, and the delicate layering of the vocals is one that only comes with true collaboration. It’s clear that SOAR is made up of people who recognize their inherent dissonances, those pesky ones that still exist despite the tight weave of long-term friendships. But if they can make an entire album with this firmly in mind, it’s something we shouldn’t forget as we listen, when even our neighbors seem so far away as to paint the world with impossibility. Perhaps your more ambitious quarantine creative plans aren’t as untenable as you think. Perhaps your friends aren’t as far away as they feel.
Hang in there, ya’ll.