Surrey’s purveyors of gentle blissed out indie pop, Softer Still have been teasing us with singles and EPs the last couple of years, but this week we finally got to hear their debut album “Nuances“. Softer Still are one of those rare breed of indie bands that are born with a distinctive style that immediately sets them apart. Their synth and drum tones evoke classic 80’s bands like The Cure and New Order, but there’s a modern finish to it reminiscent of groups like Small Black. Similarly their songwriting occupies a middle ground between synth pop and jangle pop packaged together with a velvety smooth delivery.
“Nuances” collects several of Softer Still’s previous singles with a batch of new material. The title track opens with the expansive and quite catchy instrumental. Just when you think the vocals are about to come in, it segues to lead off single “A Sadder Sound“. Punchy rhythms provide a counterpoint to Grant Williams‘ melancholy singing. Ellie O’Shea adds beautiful yearning backing vocals and the whole track is enveloped in a warm synth glow. “Red Sun” takes a post punk riff and puts a dream pop spin on it with reverb that last for days. While other bands might be content to let a song like this dwell on its moody textures, Softer Still fill it with countermelodies from shimmering guitars and stuttering synths. “New Age” was one of Softer Still‘s earliest singles originally released in 2016. The fact that they’ve included it here over their wealth of other excellent singles speaks to how highly they rate this song, and it’s not hard to see why. Gorgeous guitars sparkle across this upbeat track, but it’s really Grant and Ellie‘s alternating vocals and an infectious chorus that makes this one an album highlight. “Continental Girl” is a classic indie pop throwback about a girl coming of age. It’s euphoric rush provides one of the album’s more danceable moments before
“Why Does it Rain” turns back in a more melancholy direction. This is as close as Softer Still get to a ballad on “Nuances”, but Williams still sounds vaguely hopeful in the chorus when singing about the pain of leaving a relationship. “Wishing Well” is another older single seeing new life on “Nuances” and again, it’s one of the highlights. Anchored by a chiming guitars and wistful lyrics that evoke a child-like innocence, “Wishing Well” also briefly features some of the only distorted guitar on the album which fits Softer Still well and makes for a welcomed change from the rest of this set. On “Turtle Bay” Grant and Ellie duet together throughout a blissed out three and half minutes that’s just as breezy sonically as it’s subject matter. “Eulogy” sheds some of the more overt 80s pop influences for a more shoegazey direction. Hushed vocals soaked in reverb add an air of mystery to this otherwise upbeat song about grief.
“Priorities” wraps up the album and neatly summarizes the various themes on “Nuances“. Williams sings about losing faith and his sense of direction, but his priority seems to be set on an unspecified love. Surprisingly there’s some spoken word added in the end that sounds like the popular psychology professor Jordan Peterson.
Across these ten songs Softer Still show themselves to be both fans and attentive students of pop music. As a result, “Nuances” is an accomplished album of sparkling and sophisticated dream pop that builds on Softer Still’s reputation as one of the most exciting bands in the genre today.