One of the more interesting things happening at the fringes of dance music right now is that artists are re-defining what it means to be dancey. In one corner, you’ve got artists like Nicolas Jaar and Maya Jane Coles who play all the big tents at mainstream dance music festivals, but who also feel free to lose that throbbing four-on-the-floor template to play around in weirder, atmospheric musical spaces.
And on the other end, you’ve got a band like Soft Metals, an experimental L.A. duo who use all the basic tools of dance music – hard, repetitive kick drums and tangles of arpeggiated synths - but the end result is moody and punky and definitely un-celebratory. At the release show for their new album “Lenses,” they carved out a space for themselves right between the orthodoxies of club music and the ambitions of contemporary noise scenes.
The duo has knocked around in L.A.’s coldwave and post-punk niches for a few years. But the eight long and captivatingly melancholy tracks of “Lenses” have the potential to move them onto much bigger stages, in rock clubs and dance tents alike.
Singer Patricia Hall’s vocals come off like a goth revamp of the Sundays’ Harriet Wheeler, and her melodies cut right through all the analog hissing. Synth-wrangler Ian Hicks will start a song with a diced-up bit of noise or a simple synth pattern, then drop in a gained-up kick drum and let the whole thing double-back on itself in a haze of artful, unexpectedly emotional noise.
No one was quite dancing at their Echo set, but that almost made this music feel even more interesting. Anybody can get a drunk crowd going with obvious floor-shakers. Soft Metals obeyed the letter of the dance music laws, but performed with a broody, antagonistic spirit that could either get them booted from a HARD Summer stage or make them superstars on it. Call it dance music or don’t, but I want to hear a lot more of it.
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