Soko’s Feel Feelings is spacious and open – sometimes perhaps too open. The LA based, French born musician began the production of her third album fresh from a stay at the Hoffman Institute, designed to eliminate negative behaviour patterns learnt in childhood. Channeling this conscious emotional maturity into this new project meant that Soko leaves behind the sonic The Clash-inspired kaleidoscope that dominated her second album for a more streamlined, groovy sound.
It’s chic, reminiscent of Charlotte Gainsbourg and Cat Power, and, although the first few seconds of the opening track’s psychedelic synth could easily be at home on a budget sci-fi movie, this smoothly gets left behind. The earthy guitar and chilled drums of Are You A Magician sets the understated tone that is to feature heavily throughout the rest of the album.
Blasphémie, the first song Soko has written in French and the third of this album, seems deceptively simple – just insistent, light drums, tapping a soft metronome, equally soft guitar, and a bass line as smooth as butter on warm pancakes – but the track reveals itself in layers a throwback to her more acoustic debut album. Blasphémie feels different from the other tracks, but is a welcome departure, with the vocals especially impressive. Soko’s recognisable voice is perfectly husky and morose with the passionate pain of emptiness after a breakup that is the topic of the song. Comparatively stripped back to the rest of Feel Feelings, paying homage to her French roots, Blasphémie is a version of Soko everyone will want more of.
Elsewhere on the album, Soko experiments with a more androgynous tone and conversational singing. This disrupts the tasteful, attractive sound of Are You A Magician yet still remains somewhere close to charming, but it works perfectly with Oh To Be A Rainbow. Rainbow is also one of the happier songs on the album, a kooky lament to Soko’s “pillow princess”; it’s on-the-nose discussion of gay relationships is confident where it could easily have been cartoonish. Production-wise, the electronic elements sit well on this track, balanced neatly alongside flickering guitar and soulful bass. Oh To Be a Rainbow is skilfully rough around the edges and reflects the extensive pre-planning Soko undertook with the arrangements on this album.
Unfortunately, the second half of the album seems flat in comparison to the first six tracks. Quiet Storm is appropriately melancholic and hazy for its title and domestic abuse subject matter, but Soko could have done with some more grit to really make this track stand out. This grit does come out on the following track, Don’t Tell Me To Smile, contrasting enchantingly childlike background vocals with winding and confessional lyrics, but the structure of the song doesn’t build enough to amplify its meaning.
Soko has stuck to her groove but sacrificed her sharp lyrics in the process; it feels tiresome, even if Soko herself sounds more emotive than in Quiet Storm. Let Me Adore You, most likely the reason the musician dubbed this album about “all the sex [she] couldn’t have” fails to have any of the sex appeal that Oh To Be A Rainbow exudes in waves, despite its carnal (but repetitive) lyrics. The almost monotone vocals make it dull rather than dramatic. Whilst the first half of this album sonically feels like each track is a snapshot of a different memory, the second half seems much more blurred together and could do with some editing. Songs like Replaceable Heads have huge unfulfilled potential; the lyrical focus on weeding out toxic patterns of behaviour in yourself and others is something many people need to hear and relate to right now, but the song just doesn’t do its topic justice.
Tracks 1 through 6 of this album is a Wednesday evening bath steeped in bubbles, a glass of red on the side, existing slightly to the left of mundane reality. Tracks like Blasphémie and Oh To Be A Rainbow make you glad to be imperfectly perfect along with Soko. However, not all of it works so smoothly. Overall, Feel Feelings represents the complexity of the human experience in that it’s not perfect, however the work put into this album is undeniable. It can be hoped that for her next album Soko continues to, indeed, feel her feelings through her music for us to enjoy.