Soft Circle

Full Bloom

(Eastern Developments; 2007)

By Mark Abraham | 2 March 2007

Here’s my split-personality question: is Full Bloom awesome because Hisham Bharoocha creates livid soundscapes that tie ambience and percussion together with tiny, pretty bows of distended vocalisms into sweet packages possibly left on your doorstep by didgeridoo-playing fairies? Or rote nonsensical globalism that just kind of feels like expanded versions of all your Bruce Cockburn (or other similarly “world” influenced MOR whateverisms) song intros. Are my ears or is my ire in full bloom?

Guard your grotto; it’s that kind of music, plying the difference between guitar chord-anchored soaring vocals and thundering percussion to create something genius and gentle, but also something that feels a little put on. This album’s claims to authenticity grate when the liner notes fore ground Bharoocha’s process: mostly-live guitar-vocals-and-drums-at-the-same-time one takes, no sequencers but simple looping technology, mild overdubbing. I mean, who cares? It doesn’t change the fact that the whole tension of the album exists on the cusp of organics and electronics, and that nobody should get points for playing with the bpm fixity of a sequencer just because they can. Yngwie Malmsteen still hasn’t gotten his hipster revival, and that’s why. Yes, sequencing program presets suck, but sequencers are a way you can record music. I just don’t get how the album benefits from the fact that Bharoocha ostensibly played this stuff at the same time, liveinonetake! Novelties don’t make good music, just like suggesting that Spiderland (1991) sounds better on vinyl doesn’t actually make it a better album.

And that could just be a rant titled Mark’s Personal Feelings About “Authenticity” and Music, but this whole album gives off this weird entitled vibe that I’m not even sure I can describe. I mean, I’ll try to, of course.

Bharoocha has managed to combine a lot of great things about contemporary music (the languid guitars and vocals of the Animal Collective, the drumming of Black Dice, the odder beat-based fun of the Boredoms, or maybe even LCD Soundsystem). Three things. One, these bands have moved on from the things he scoops from them; the Animal Collective write pop songs now, and when was the last time you heard Black Dice use drums that sounded like drums? Two, he employs these tropes in intuitive and unadventurous ways, bringing Full Bloom closer to the Clogs but without the classical aspirations or the general tonality of Clogs music that makes it so vibrant. Three, these are ideas already vindicated by a critical, commercial, and fan community and invoking them—especially under a heading that basically reads “I played this all myself at the same time all at the same time no sequencers whee”—is like saying, “with novelty, I am performing music you already like. Because you already like it, I am entitled to your praise. I own your enjoyment. If you criticize this, you criticize your own tastes.” But, I mean, this is epic and indulgent and plays off its own catharsis and most of it makes me sleepy. At points, Full Bloom is the musical equivalent of watching slimy, disgusting Joe Francis explain why Girls Gone Wild isn’t sexist: you couldn’t care less about his arguments, ‘cause whatever, dude, it obviously is, but it’s just shocking and scary that Francis so horrifically embodies the widespread liberal anxiety that post-industrial culture teaches all of us: we are owed something if we do it from the gut.

And of course I’m not suggesting that Soft Circle is quite that sociopathic, or in any way resembles that shitheel. I am saying, however, that dumbing down some of the finest moments of our millennial avant-garde while simultaneously hyping your own artistic process as if it’s incredibly unique (hi Feist! Hi Andrew Bird! Hi David Broughton Thomas! Hi about 50 million other artists from just this year alone!) pings my same bullshit detectors. This music bears the same relationship to its progenitors that Keane bears to Coldplay bears to Radiohead; it’s like Mr. Christie claiming his cookies are better than ones you make yourself.

That’s a shame, because if this were just offered as an album without the superlative rhetoric I’d probably just tell you that even if this stuff is derivative, “Sundazed,” “Shimmer,” and “Earthed” are actually really good insofar as they exemplify the kinds of noise and builds I love with this style of languid percussion-infused ambience (even if they sound less developed and more monotonous than similar work produced by electronic artists on sequencers). All three start with a basic idea (a vocal line, a bubbly guitar with a digital arpeggio-patch, a bass line) and all three build logically towards some crescendo. And then I’d tell you how the other four songs do to, just not as interestingly or with as much panache.

Which basically sums up my contentions here. This album is trying really hard to be a novelty record in the tradition of Beaches & Canyons (2002) or Here Comes the Indian (2003) or the collected works of Tortoise. It ain’t any of ‘em. So a few parts are nice; the rest is okay; it isn’t quite the statement it makes itself out to be. And also: for all of the “solo project from ex-Black Dice drummer”isms I’ve seen in other reviews, nobody mentions dude was fired for embezzling money from the BD production fund? Gossip rocks!