There is a fine line to be walked when making music in the dark, atmospheric realms that Soft Ledges inhabit. Step too far into the gloom and the music enters the po-faced, theatrical world of goth, too far the other way and the sunlight starts to burn away the shamanic cloak of shadows that acts as your guide. Thankfully Soft Ledges are fully aware of this and travel sure-footed through this twilight musical world.
Whilst there is something very Nick Cave about the brooding minimalism of the open salvo, La Nina, like the antipodean Prince of Darkness, Soft Ledges are a tricky beast and if that is the tempting morsel they use to entice you into their world, you soon find that it is a multi-faceted one and very much fashioned to their own design. Contrasts and contradictions begin immediately with Tear Me Down, a song built on heavy bass grooves and skittering drum shuffles but with the same approach to space and emotional tone. The guitar is bravely pushed to the back of the song punching a void where you expect the musical pay-off to be.
And so they continue down a this twisting path, thwarting expectation both in style and structure, delivering piano ballads and torch songs, undertaking post-punk experiments, building soaring post-rock sonic cathedrals, mixing ethereality with aggression, lush soundscaping with wanton destruction.
The clouds clear briefly for Long Way to The Ground, a more conventional alt-rock interlude that sits somewhere between wistful ballad and reflective soul search and acts as a perfect showcase for the positivity that underpins their music but is often lost in the voluminous and distorted music trappings they draw around themselves.
It isn’t until Seven Stories appears majestically before me that the other reference point I have been struggling for looms large. The street rock urges, the hypnotic riff, the staccato vocals – when they head down a more melodic road they remind me of that most underated band Concrete Blonde, not the 90’s MTV version of the band but the voodoo groove and similarly mercurial mix of intelligence, depth, sophistication and aggression that they played with so tantalisingly the previous decade.
To follow a thread I began earlier the term gothic now seems to have been re-appropriated into just another sub-genre of metal by a generation who want to live in the Sunnydale of Buffy The Vampire Slayer but this album manages to pull referential strands from the older, darker heart of the punk-gothique and industrial genres. The Bells and You Beneath is a wash of darkwave patterns that Bauhaus would have sold their soul for, if indeed one could have been found, and around this understated and challenging centrepiece they build their dark-art.
At their most minimal they are happy to merely build delicate musical structures around the atmospheres already present in their nighttime world rather than try to fashion new ones own. The spaces in between the notes, the pauses between the words, all add something, expectation and attentiveness…even entrancement. But at their most driven they are nothing short of glorious. They can take tribal rock beats, power on growling bass lines and willfully savage razor cuts of guitar and between defined musical structures conjure eerie atmospherics and Stygian sounds and the end result is a claustrophobic and nebulous musical collection And just when you think you have them pegged they are still able to throw in a wonderful curve ball such as Don’t Wait which has all the hall marks of a late night, soulful, r’n’b cry against the anguish of loneliness. Well, they are from Chicago; it’s a sound that is probably in their DNA anyway.
Few do it better, it unites the dark hearted followers of earlier musical ages with todays children of a colder, more clinical night and this atramentous crusade has not only had me turning to the thesaurus for suitable descriptive words but is nothing short of a fantastic set of songs that will act as a rallying call to those looking for an alternative to both the mainstream and those wishing for a dark musical resurgence.