You may remember Soko as appearing in the slipstream of post-Lily Allen singer/songwriters about eight years ago. She was French, endearingly quirky and half-sung songs in a heavily accented voice about how she’d kill any rivals for her lover’s affections, and how she could never love anybody more than Kliph Scurlock, the now fired drummer for the The Flaming Lips. She supported Kate Nash, eventually released a long-delayed, delicately lovely album called I Thought I Was An Alien but never quite broke into the mainstream.
After another long musical hiatus (she’s also an actress, having appeared in a couple of Spike Jonze films), Soko is back with her second album. And, apart from that unmistakable voice, everything sounds a fair bit different in her world this time around, with a bigger, more rounded sound – long gone are the days when you could file Soko under ‘self-consciously kooky acoustic chanteuse‘.
There seems to be a big debt of gratitude to The Cure, and early to mid ’80s alternative rock in general, on My Dreams Dictate My Reality – in fact, so gloomy and claustrophobic does it become at times that you fully expect Robert Smith to hove into view. The reverb-heavy guitar that introduces opening track I Come In Peace becomes a familar staple through the album, and it’s a sound that suits Soko’s voice. It’s the title track that really ramps up the Cure comparisons though: the sombre, gothic atmosphere of the track making it sound for all the world like an out-take from Disintegration.
It’s not all gloomy and downbeat though: her self-described “lesbian anthem” Who Wears The Pants drives along on a surf guitar riff, and Ocean Of Tears has much of the kind of energy that Arcade Fire harnessed for much of the Neon Bible album. She’s also a pretty dab hand at a catchy chorus – the infectious Temporary Mood Swings has the sort of hummable tune that’s liable to drive you insane after just a couple of listens and My Precious is slinky, chic indie-pop of the type that Lykke Li does so well.
It doesn’t all work though – no content with disrupting the momentum on Azealia Banks‘ debut album, Ariel Pink pops up on two of the least memorable tracks, Monster Love and Lovetrap, which contributes towards a bit of a slump during the second half of the record. With 12 tracks (14 if you count the extra tracks on the ‘deluxe’ version), it can all become a bit tiresome after a while, and some judicious editing would have helped no end in this respect.
However, she ensures that she signs off on a high point, with the heartbreaking closer Keaton’s Song. Apparently dedicated to the famously fragile London songwriter Keaton Henson, whose relationship with Soko has been the source of much internet speculation, it’s basically her version of a Henson song – the stripped down instrumentation, and her barely whispered vocals become almost unbearably affecting. Lyrics such as “You grow a beard to hide behind so I can not read your mind” will certainly add fuel more chin-stroking about these two most enigmatic of artists.
A few years ago, Soko suddenly announced she was quitting music, scrapping all of her album sessions and dedicating her career entirely to acting. Although My Dreams Dictate My Reality may not be a perfect return to form, there’s enough quality gathered on it to make us grateful that she had a re-think.