Review | SOAK delivers a magical, brilliant debut on ‘Before We Forgot How To Dream’

SOAKBefore -Headstuff.org

Before We Forgot How To Dream

[Rough Trade Records]

Nothing you read about SOAK glosses over her age. At 18, Bridie Monds-Watson has somehow managed to figure a whole lot of things out; a distinctive vocal and musical style, a killer fashion aesthetic, and a downright likeable persona. All this along with a hint of that ‘old-soul’ authentic vibe, her record Before We Forgot How To Dream is a magical account of personal experience way beyond her years.  She sits comfortably alongside other soul-folk (Soak – geddit?) giants such as Cat Power and Daughter, along with elements of Lorde and Laura Marling in vocal harmonies and melodic simplicity. Everything about her is refreshing, current and hip with a hint of wisdom and knowledge which seems to underlie the reformation of the millennial aesthetic. This is smart music made by a smart young woman, with a melodic Derry accent to boot.

Regardless of her age, whether Watson released this album at 18 or 28, it is a triumph, one filled to the brim with heart-breaking earnest expression. Its opener, a minute-long instrumental track, is a dizzying blend and build of tones, hinting at an other-worldly expanse, music that is there but can’t quite be grasped, and cuts  off as quickly as it starts, leading straight into ‘B a noBody’. Before We Forgot How To Dream‘s second track seems to address the whole ‘age issue’, expressing the “teenage heart” without a hint of nostalgia or patronising address, but simply an honest consideration of the pressures of conformity (pressures which she clearly seems to have addressed, put aside, and evaded).

‘Wait’ follows, with a hint of Lucy Rose (you can almost hear the melodic progression of ‘Gamble’ in the verses and violin parts). It’s a driving-at-night kind of song, beautiful in its repetition and poignant in its lyrics. A haunting and poetic number, leaning more towards the folk side of things, ‘Wait’ is pretty much as good as SOAK gets vocally and melodically. The track builds to an ethereal chorus of distant sounding muted drums, choral harmonies, and a lead vocal line that half speaks, half cries, every word. It’s gentle, dark, honest, and bursting with soul.

‘Sea Creatures’, an up-tempo yet tragic account of a personal tragedy in the artist’s own life, stands out as one of the album’s finest moments. It would be easy to pass off lyrics like ‘They don’t know what love is / throw it around like it’s worthless” as a broody teenage expression of angst, but in listening, you tend to assume that the 18-year-old Watson really knows more about this kind of thing than you do. The melody – typical of the artist – is simple yet effective, leaving room to fully absorb the lyrics and instrumentation (including sea sound effects, building string parts, and strong cadences on piano and in harmony).

Bridie Monds-Watson hasn’t just created a musical record with Before We Forgot How To Dream, but a world, a portrait of her seminal years growing up in Northern Ireland. This is a bildungsroman which evokes empathy no matter the age of the listener, and will no doubt go down as one of the albums of 2015. It’s a meditation not only on youth, but the more delicate elements of the human experience in general. It feels like it’s been a while since an artist like this has emerged. Give the album a listen, and tell me it doesn’t strike a chord.

FIVE OUT OF FIVE

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