Soft Days - CF Records - 8 January
From it’s drone laden opening minute, Soft Days, the new record from Sea Pinks, confounds the listener and consolidates the Belfast three piece as one of the most distinctive guitar bands around right now. “It feels like a new band” says singer/guitarist Neil Brogan. “This is the first record that was written and conceived with a three piece line up in mind. I think it’s a tighter, more cohesive record as a result.” Soft Days is the band’s second full-length studio record, following on from 2014’s Dreaming Tracks and three previous DIY albums on which Brogan played virtually everything himself. It’s a snapshot of a band growing in confidence and hitting its stride as a three piece. It’s also thrillingly eclectic, cherry picking genres with magpie abandon.
The songs on Soft Days more than bear this out, taking in the sublime dream pop of single “Depth of Field”, the power pop of “Ordinary Daze” and “Yr Horoscope”, the indiepop sounding “Trend When You’re Dead” and the more brooding “Everything In Sight” among other highlights. Key inspirations (such as Felt’s Ballad of The Band in opening track “(I don’t feel like) Giving In”, echoes of The Chills’ Pink Frost resonating in the title track) are referenced throughout, though never to the point of feeling derivative. “If there is a common denominator it would be pop, but obviously not the kind of pop that is really popular right now,” says Neil “It’s a kind of hybrid collage-pop that draws from 60s beat groups, 70s power pop, 80s indie pop, post 90s alt and psych, and other stuff too.”
Soft Days features the now established line up of Brogan (also known as a founder member of Girls Names and more recently as part of Irish “supergroup” CRUISING), Steven Henry on bass and Davey Agnew on drums. Recorded over a couple of weeks in April 2015, the band laid down backing tracks before a ten day tour of Italy, after which Neil added vocals and mixed the record with engineer Ben McAuley at Belfast’s Start Together. “The drums are up in the mix this time. I was listening to a lot of Big Star immediately before mixing so went in with the Ardent Studio sound as a reference, though it’s probably not that obvious!” says Neil. “Also I was more confident recording the guitars this time around, and actually this is the first 100% studio Sea Pinks record, because I tracked most of the overdubs at home last time. The main guitar I used on a lot of songs was a Fender Johnny Marr Jaguar, which is super versatile, through a Hot Rod Deluxe and Jazz Chorus, and also my Jazzmaster through a Vox AC15 for rhythm guitar stuff. There are a lot more effects on the guitars than on previous records too, and I think that helps give each song a distinctive sound.”
Although the record wasn't conceived with a particular theme in mind, there is a loose thread of sorts running through the songs. Some of the imagery seems to be about being in a state of limbo; “As always the songs are ambivalent and bittersweet, so they are open to interpretation,” Neil explains “But to me they are ultimately positive, they tend to be defiant and about coming to terms.”
As for the album title, it’s a reference to classic Irish weather. Neil: “A soft day is that very fine almost mist like drizzle that totally soaks you through in five minutes. It’s a common phenomenon in Ireland, Belfast in particular. I just really like that expression and the kind of atmosphere it evokes.”
Over it’s thirty nine minutes Soft Days is an album that holds the listener from the outset and showcases a band hitting the sweet spot while making it sound easy. It’s the best Sea Pinks record yet, no mean feat.