Montreal native Dan Bodan is a wild card on the DFA label. DFA – co-founded by James Murphy of LCD Soundsystem fame – is almost entirely known for wacky remixes and dance-punk hits instead of the extremely downtempo bedroom R&B produced by Bodan. The music here is icy synthesizers instead of fist-pumping bass drums, which are quite enjoyable if one ignores the questionable lyrical matters.
Listening to Soft is like listening to a diary, which is a comparison made by Bodan himself on his DFA biography. “Bedroom pop” is often an epithet for an amateurish and lo-fi technique used by Alex G and Frankie Cosmos, but here the bedroom moniker is an apt description for Bodan’s fragile and personal songwriting style. Soft is almost entirely love songs, or songs about love. There are several evocative metaphors that are the ace up the sleeve of indie electronic music artists: Jaws Of Life stands out quite well in that regard.
Bodan’s production style bears resemblance to the electronic blues and downtempo R&B employed by James Blake. Although Bodan has little in the way of club hits, the spacious production style and almost ambient beats that characterized much of Blake’s debut full-length are present in tracks such as Romeo and Reload. The playful bass and electronics of Soft As Rain is vaguely reminiscent of the less kitschy instrumentals on The Postal Service.
Each track has some trick. Rusty features a steady distorted bass crescendo, Jaws of Life has a devolving saxophone outro, and A Soft Opening is, well, the softest song on the album. It does quite well from a production standpoint, and although listeners accustomed to DFA’s far more subversive and raucous output may see the album as too different from the norm for their tastes, it does have charm.
Mid-album track For Heaven’s Sake is… a misstep, to say the least. The track begins with an odd sample of rioting, which segues into a hackneyed song about how Bodan and his object of affection should fall in love together because, well, why not? Might as well with all this mean, mean world around us. It is insipid on behalf of the listener, and is a song that has been done hundreds – if not thousands – of times. His voice falters, either because the material is oh so sad or because the notes are slightly out of his range.
This isn’t evening mentioning Catching Fire, a misfired sequel to Bodan’s own Hunger Games. It relies more on the pop culture reference than original material; even the chorus is mostly the phrase “hunger games” repeated. For Heaven’s Sake sounds like it was written by someone who spent too much time reading world news articles on social media, and the thought of falling in love for no reason other than “just because” says more about the artist’s desire for love rather than the person toward whom he sings.
That’s the single overarching issue with Soft: the production is beautiful and DFA spared no expense on Bodan’s collaborators, but the subject matter loses itself too often. Listening to Soft is like listening to a younger sibling’s diary – as Bodan said – but it has the same emotional depth as such a diary before any growing up has occurred. It isn’t enough to sing about lost love in the current musical climate – rather than just talk about it, Bodan would do better in singing about the growing-up process that comes from emotionally traumatic events. Hell, even Blink-182 had that with their Dammit single back in the late ’90s.
There’s a lack of maturity on Soft that is at odds with the stellar showmanship that Soft so desperately seeks to demonstrate. Bodan has the abilities of any other member of the DFA roster to go for gold, but in order to harness that into meaningful works, he should spend more time interpreting his feelings rather than dwelling on them.