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For more reviews, please visit Palebear which is where all future Shmat reviews will appear (as of March 2006).

The Soft Set
Only Lovers Left Alive (CD)

Austin - an area known for cowboy hats, bloody steaks at every table, and footstomping bar country music? This is stereotyping of course, like people who think that everyone living near L.A. either has a zip code of 90210 or parties with Axl and Slash down at Guitar Center. So it's probably a stretch to say that The Soft Set, who are certainly from Austin, Texas, are breaking out of some kind of universal musical mold that all bands from the Lone Star State need adhere to. Still, there's a lot to like in their 12 song Only Lovers Left Alive CD and that has everything to do with well crafted pop songs.

They'll get an easy comparison to Belle and Sebastian in the setup of the mellow song structures and the gossamer like melodies. The first track, "Stop Talking", jangles along like nobody's business, with the harmonica usage being similar to stuff like "Me and the Major" from the B&S red album. More than a few reviewers have compared The Soft Set to The Velvet Underground and that is difficult to avoid on tracks like "Somewhere Far Away", which has a riff that is a dead ringer for "Sweet Jane" or "Pale Blue Eyes". Indeed, the trademark isolated, semi-muted guitar licks are often responsible for this likening to the Velvets. But though William Crain often delivers vocals only a little less deadpan than Lou Reed, he cares a bit more if he's in tune. He's also quite a bit more agile in his handling of melody. Sometimes I can't make up my mind whether I think he sounds like Ira Kaplan carefully picking his way through a quieter Tengo track, an aloof version of Brian Tighe from The Hangups, or maybe a less whiny Dean Wareham.

Interestingly, the beginning of "St. Francis" reminds me of the riff from the Go-Gos' "Vacation". No kidding, that was the first thing I thought of when that track started up. One thing that I liked was the use of the trumpet on tracks like "Christmas Lights" and "Standing Around". This really adds some punch and variation to the mix. Ditto with the harmonica. If there's only one thing I'd like to hear more of, it's variation in the tracks. For a first time listener going through the whole CD, many of the tracks seem to kind of blend together in feel, partly because the band is so consistently focused. That said, this consistency certainly isn't unpleasant by any stretch, and the nuances and special moments in the songs will come through after a couple plays. And though the music itself has brief hints of that country feel that may haunt bands from their hometown, it never gets in the way of the overall pop vision that pushes the band forward.

- review by BY (10.16.03)        

The Soft Set

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