One day, I was browsing the new releases on bandcamp and happened to see the phrase “post-hyperpop” in the tag cloud. When I saw that, I thought, “wait, we’re already on POST-hyperpop?! I have to check those releases out, they’re ahead of the game.”
And so, I discovered Soft and Dumb. And they are, in fact, ahead of the game.
Soft and Dumb are an art rock duo out of Illinois. Together, guitarist Elena Buenrostro and drummer Travis Newgren craft music that’s both twinkly and gritty. It’s harsh, yet tender. Their sound is a bit like if Mitski was a member of Sonic Youth. Or like, if Soccer Mommy was in a mathcore midwest emo band. Actually, it feels like a cop-out to even compare them to other artists at all – Soft and Dumb are truly one of a kind, and their self-titled debut does not disappoint.
Both Buenrostro and Newgren sing throughout the tracklist, and the dual vocal dynamic works very well, especially on the track “honeydew” – the two have a call-and-response going on, with one singing insults (“Way too bland! You’re too bitter!”) while the other pleads (“Just give me a chance! No, I’m not!”). It makes for a really engaging listen, and it’s a clever way to approach sonic storytelling.
Much of the lyrics found on the album are short and fragmented like this, but a lot is said in those few words. Take the opener, “skirt,” which succinctly tackles sexism and imposter syndrome (“Stupid girl roadblock/curse the guitar shop” … “Light as a feather/Does he play better?”). The grungy discordance of the instrumentals fill in any blanks left by the lyrics, with fuzzy guitars and erratic percussion guiding the track’s emotional thrust.
Other tracks, like the single “never wanna” uses quick, visceral stanzas to inflict emotional stings (“Bile forming/saying nothing/bile foaming/still say nothing“). The band calls the track “the indie rock anxiety anthem of the summer,” and indeed, it is somehow anthemic while describing nauseating misery.
There are parts of the album that seem like odd choices, yet they work surprisingly well. Like, they throw in a live recording mid-tracklist, which is usually something I find off-putting. But here, it blends together well with the DIY sound present on the record.
And then there’s that post-hyperpop sound I mentioned. On “moonshoes,” drum machines and heavily modulated vocals are incorporated with noisy math rock, taking the listener aback at first. But by the end of the song, you wonder why other noise rockers aren’t all throwing autotune or vocoders into the distortion mix.
Later in the track list is “work it,” which takes that common dance mantra and applies it to a song about burnout and work-time disassociation. The synths and hooks mixed in with noise rock elements cleverly illustrates the madness that plays in your head when you’re stuck performing emotional labor at the 9-5 when you’d rather be making art (or doing literally anything else, really). This track and “moonshoes” expertly blend bare-bone synths and crescendoing guitars, crafting a textured, intricate balance of both the minimal and the maximal.
The album culminates with the track “noise,” ending on a sound collage of distortion, feedback, and recorded conversations. There’s something meta about it – like you’ve been welcomed into the studio while the two are brainstorming and setting up for a session. It’s immersive. It gives the feeling that you’ve really, truly been brought into their world. And after listening to the album through, you’ll feel really glad that they let you in.