Score: 4.5 stars/5
The cover of this album is great: because on the surface it looks like some cheesy, bad Jackson Browne or Rick Springfield type thing, with the sensitive singer protagonist staring poignantly into the distance, but then you notice that they set it up so that it looks like this antenna is growing straight out of the guy’s head. Also, the antenna has nothing to do with the title matter “get soft” — it’s not like a bowl of flowers, or something.
Along these lines, it’s almost impossible not to view this strangely abridged (it’s not like Mike Pace makes complex music) effort the Get Soft EP as a direct response to The Strokes, who as we know issued the midget-sized Future Present Past EP just this prior year. Truth be told, Pace’s former band, Oxford Collapse, started AROUND the same time The Strokes did, and piled up about as many albums (actually I believe he has exactly as many to date, if you combine the Collapse and the Actors). Both hail from New York and furnish concise Rolling Stones-influenced power pop as their m.o., The Strokes tending toward the relationship-heavy and O.C. tending toward the literary, androgynous and goofy. So while in a way it’s easy to see why one would hit it big and the other would more in indie commercial modesty, it’s also, given how clever and catchy they were, sort of a crime that not more people know who Oxford Collapse is.
The Child Actors’ debut LP Best Boy, I thought, was a refreshing step toward the musically complex, comparatively speaking (opener “Up the Academy”’s piano arpeggio an obvious nod to approachable classical music), wielding as it were “Summer Lawns” which harked voluminously and with expedition back to the glory days of Oxford Collapse. And if you don’t think there were “glory days of Oxford Collapse,” well, you and I a-beg to differ then.
To be honest, I wasn’t thrilled with the idea of a Child Actors EP, partly since such a format is hardly the proper thing, at least theoretically, for unleashing a new stylistic wrinkle, something Pace and company are arguably sort of in need of, but I feel I owe it to one of my indie cosmonauts to at least give this thing a once-over. Right away, I notice a couple of refreshing things about the opener: one, it’s over five minutes long, and another, it opens with piano and strings, hence departing from the overwhelming power pop mode of his former band. The rest of the song has Pace’s voice sounding curiously and precociously polymorphous over stringed bass, sporadic violins and a regular miasma of other abrupt, crisp but electronic sounds, all of which fit together intriguingly. Now, if I sound extra piqued here, it’s because I know this guy: he’s fu**ing funny, and I’m almost like bracing myself for hearing some really weird lyric that’s going to make me laugh, or something. But the music itself is more elaborate and involved than anything else he’s put out to date: this is indeed almost like a classical composition, like a trimmed-down, American Electric Light Orchestra with a sense of humor, roughly. If we’re all gonna “get soft,” and the androgynous falsetto vocal throughout this thing seems to dictate that we are, at least we know it won’t involve a repetition of what we’ve already done in the past.
Titled track “Get Soft” almost seems right away like Pace’s ultimate farewell to Prince, opening with multiple synths and booming, funky bass. Bass and theremin trade off the melody on this instrumental tune — the bass sounding amazingly both lugubrious and jazzy, at the same time. Throughout, the synths have a way of jabbing in percussively, not melodically, when you less expect them, exhibiting somehow a calming influence by way of rhythmic exactitude laced with disarming simplicity. Eventually closeur “Eleuthera” will mire in relative stasis, but I give him props for reminding me of the Meat Puppets here on late-album tracks from the likes of Out My Way.
So there is a fundamental, discursive question at hand, which is: “Do EP’s, like, suck?” Well, I dunno, but I’ll tell you what DOES suck, when classic indie rock goes unappreciated, even in this age of info. in which we dwell. I’m talking Dandy Warhols – Distortland. I’m talking Dismemberment Plan – Uncanney Valley. Veterans of the game. I’m talking two-bit, classless internet goons doing voyeuristic research on them and then trying to tear their meat from the bone, for seemingly no reason, ignoring inspiration, melody and originality. To be honest, I don’t know what I’d do — I don’t know how I’d react if I were a musician who’d once had a following and a solid journalistic groundwork covering me, only to find it fallen by the wayside as if my work had all been just some cultural fad, the way a lot of these massive toolboxes seem to want to pigeonhole indie as these days. This music has more influences in one EP (I’ve already named The Strokes, the Rolling Stones, E.L.O., Meat Puppets and Prince) than Lady Gaga could manage in an entire career catalogue. Yet, we have no Wikipedia page on even this band at large, let alone for these albums, Best Boy and Get Soft, in particular. Well, I will be working to change that, if you need me.