Text: Jaap van Hamond
The new album from the Northern Irish indie pop songwriters is the most direct, focused work to date. Inspired by indie giants such as Broken Social Scene and Radiohead, If I Never Know You Like This Again is an excursion through the formative memories of a young artist processing their past with perceptive attention to the everyday.
2015 was the year of the successful debut Before We Forgot How To Dream, when as a teenager Bridie Monds-Watson became the youngest Mercury Prize nominee ever. But with such recognition comes high expectations, and hype often backfires, SOAK says of their 2019 second album Grim Town: “I felt the pressure and I tried too hard, I don’t think I was really writing for myself”. But with album number three, If I Never Know You Like This Again, they have finally broken free of this pressure, and the result is more subtle but confident, brimming with melodic gems and compelling song writing.
With their recognisable voice, SOAK conjure up entire landscapes from their memories, then infuse them with the emotion they felt at the time. This results in their most personal lyrics, which at the same time have universal appeal. “How can I be in the moment when I’m dreading the end of it?” is the question on lead single ‘last July’, and that is the central theme on If I Never Know You Like This Again: nothing lasts forever. But everything can be stored for later revival. In photos, videos, and certainly in music.
As the album title suggests, If I Never also documents Monds-Watson’s tumultuous search for their identity. It’s a carefree journey described with humour like in ‘purgatory’: “From tomorrow on I’m gonna be legit, no more saying things for the helluvit”, but also with despair like in ‘pretzel’: “I always forget my name, it’s absurd. I’m losing it again”, a song about a first experience with drugs in a very difficult year. The overwhelming climax is ‘neptune’, a song of almost seven minutes. It is the atmospheric highlight of the album. The absence of vocals for most of the composition gives full scope for the brilliant melody to shine, supported by flickering synths and distorted guitars.
The music on If I Never Know You Like This Again is from a band that believes intensely in Monds-Watson’s songs. Well-placed vocal harmonies, pleasantly compressed drums, colourful synths but above all the rock-solid melodies lift Monds-Watson’s gripping songs to a level never before reached. The album is not boring to listen to for a single moment and lives up to all the promises of 2015.
SOAK will be touring the UK and Ireland from 25 May.