I’ve been waiting for this record for at least eight years, and I’ve been listening to Closure in Moscow ardently for at least ten. I would like to underline that, given my investment in the band’s music and my love for it, there might be a minor amount of personal bias. Emphasis on ‘might be’ and ‘minor’. For the past several weeks I’ve sunk about sixty hours of work into the review you’re reading – listening to the album at least forty times, agonizing over every detail, fanboy-ing so hard that I wouldn’t need coffee for days on end; you know, the usual. I would also like to note tha, I really am not padding these numbers. If anything, these are conservative estimates. And so help me God, there was no other way this article would have come into existence, at least not by my hand.
Honestly, I thought this review would never get to see the light of day at some point. I felt so mired in an internal conflict where I wouldn’t dare to commit any words as a definite verdict on the record, or any quality of the record. I was just so enamored with it that I felt I might just spoil it somehow by saying whatever I planned on saying. Maybe there’s also even the fact that whatever I’d say, it would never cut even accidentally close to the true value of the album. Regardless, I pulled through, so onwards we move.
There aren’t a lot of bands that leave a strong and lasting impression on me; there’s actually quite few if I really think about it more critically. Closure in Moscow is easily one of the bands at the top of my play rotation and has been for the better part of the last decade. I don’t remember exactly how I discovered them; I just know that it was a good while before Pink Lemonade. I remember, though, that “Sweet#hart” was the first song I heard from them. I was immediately hooked, and the rest is an unhealthy obsession history.
While the kicker at the time was the vibrant energy of First Temple and the outstandingly electric vocal performance, I didn’t delve into the intricacies properly. It was only after a couple of years of the quirky and eccentric whirlwind that Pink Lemonade is on rotation that I really started to unearth all the wild complexities of the band’s music, and my appreciation has only grown in the meantime. I think that dissecting each record on every possible level is something fully worthy of an exhaustive write-up, but here and now is unfortunately not the place.
I could’ve easily waited eight to ten years after First Temple for Pink Lemonade, and I can safely say that after Pink Lemonade, the near decade-long wait was worth it up to here, to Soft Hell, and I’d gladly wait another decade if the sequel to Soft Hell is just as good. Now, I was obviously bursting at the seams with excitement as I received the record, my hand shaking like a branch in a storm, on the mouse – to put this into my player. My first listen was, as I like to say, a throwaway listen. Why is that and what does it mean? Well, it just sort of goes over my head. I am just so impressed and stricken with awe and feverishness that I catch absolutely nothing save for the vibes. In the subsequent relistening sessions I started to really delve into all the elaborate details properly.
Now, it’s worth mentioning that I had insanely high expectations for this record. For the most part, in terms of quality, they have been met. In terms of direction and aesthetic, it’s an entirely different direction than what I had in mind and I don’t mind that at all – if anything, it makes me love it more. I was looking for something that would follow more closely in the footsteps of Pink Lemonade, but with an emphasis on the progressive and psychedelic element. What we got instead was what I could only define succinctly as a high-octane-densely-layered-psychedelic-frenzy-prog-pop-rock record. To slake my thirst for more Pink Lemonade-style tunes, we do get a nice segue as the album begins. The first two tracks are really misleading in that sense, as they sound eerily like unreleased B-sides from the Pink Lemonade sessions. They’re an absolute delight, and I’d be hard-pressed to say that they don’t also have their unique Soft Hell charm as well.
“Absolute Terror Field” is the first song that really takes us on a dive into Soft Hell. It really caught me off guard following the openers, what with the gritty and gnarly bassline spiced with that unrealistically sultry and catchy vocal line and those bright stabby synths. It really is a kick. By now, if you’ve been following the band’s activity, you’d already have listened to “Better Way” at least once. A pattern emerges upon closer inspection, which is only confirmed by the rest of the record. There’s a strong emphasis on incredibly catchy hooks and/or choruses, complemented with a strong sense of melody and some of the most infectious grooves this side of the millennium.
Soft Hell borrows a lot from many different directions. This point alone could be subject to an article of exhaustive lengths. It veers into influences including, but not limited to, the band’s past material, as much as it does into pop music from the past twenty years, a large variety of types of sounds from rock music since its inception, and all sorts of other techniques you could trace all the way back to symphonic classicism. Each song boasts a different approach and timbre in this sense, and it makes you wonder how did so many different disparate ends come together? I have absolutely no fucking idea, but it sounds glorious and unbelievably cohesive, and I’m here for all of it in its unrelenting glory.
The layering of the songs might as well be an entire discussion on its own. Soft Hell takes its time to see what works well and takes lots of simple layers, stacking them, until the final result is this cursive yet meaty and complex stream. I want to give a huge shoutout right here to the engineer(s). It’s incredible how well-produced everything is. With so many layers, never-even-mind that sometimes you have several layers competing fiercely for the same frequency bands, being so neatly distinguished and set on stage. I am simply baffled at the level of ingenuity in this sense. Obviously, the rest of the production in every other way is just as stellar.
As should obvious by this point, the songwriting aspect of Soft Hell is everything to rave about. The argument? As the number of listens increased, from one favorite song, I ended up having almost every song as a favorite. Then, as the listens passed, I would keep arriving to one ever changing favorite. At first it was “Jaeger Bomb”, then at some point “Don Juan Triumphant”, although at the time of writing this, my absolute favorite is “Lovelash”. It’s a stunningly arduous and punchy love song – if I dare call it so. I’m not one for sappy-feely songs of the love song variety in general; however, this is just something else. It’s so bold and passionate that I can see my speakers lighting up.
I am particularly infatuated with the chorus, which, if I caught it correctly (I didn’t get a lyric sheet), reads something like this: ‘why can’t you see you’re so beautiful/I wanna see you’re not afraid/of your light, of your power/why can’t you see that you’re not alone/I wanna be your lover and friend/through the night’s lonely hours‘. I find this magnificently touching. Maybe it’s just a matter of personal preference, as I can’t really argue for why it’s so great, but there’s something so beautiful about the simplicity and forwardness of it all.
My only real gripe with Soft Hell is the way it ends (but in no way affects my general love for it). I am quite a stickler for how a record ends in general. I really mean it when I say that it could’ve ended perfectly with “Lovelash”. Instead, it ends with “My Dearest Kate”, which, while heartfelt and following neatly in the same emotional wavelengths, just takes the oomph out of the entire buildup of the record. It feels too soft in terms of dynamics. I can’t say that I’m a fan either of the demo tape quality of the recording, or that vague unplugged kind of vibe. Although, more than that, in certain ways, I think what irks me the most is how DeCinque’s soaring scream at the end clips so hard. It just takes the entire punch out of that dramatic moment and ruins it. I would’ve loved to see that fully polished with tons reverb and chorus to really make it pop and drive the entire record home.
There’s no way I can properly encompass in words, how valiantly I fought the supernatural urge to not make this a track-by-track review, but I emerge victorious in this mighty endeavor. I would’ve really loved something like that; however, I really want to leave plenty for you to uncover (almost) the same way I did, knowing virtually nothing about those things. Although I do believe that Soft Hell will have a hearty element of surprise left for someone, even if I did verbally spoil the entirety of it. While it might be a bit of a hasty call to say that Soft Hell is easily album of the year, I can safely say that it is easily the best ‘noisy progressive pop rock with a strawberry twist’ album I’ve ever heard and I can foresee it being an integral part of my playlist for the next ten years.