Garek Druss’ latest album Soft Fascination makes for an emotionally interesting listen: Its synthesized harmonies and drones feel measured, even tentative at times, but there’s a sense across the album’s five tracks that the music would like to break out into a soar.
The album’s press materials note this record as a departure for the artist whose previous work was noisier, harsher. The album’s third track “Cella” does experiment briefly with noise. It opens with synthesized tones which recall an orchestra’s string section tuning, as a brass-like echo evokes room sound. As the ‘orchestra’ swells, bass reverberates, and the volume builds, pushing against the aural space of the speakers and evoking a sense of claustrophobia. And the last several minutes of “Cella” are one of the few places on Soft Fascination that a more metallic hissing takes over the otherwise smooth texture of the synths. Despite this, and this is true for much of the record, it still feels like gentle noise, a sense that is reinforced by the video which accompanies the song. The video, also created by Druss, resembles an animated watercolor, all soft colors, shapes, and textures which gradually fade in and out of focus as the synthetic harmonies ascend and descend.
The album is at its best when it strikes a more sustained balance between grandeur and simplicity. Opener “Afterglow” and the second track, “Prolonged Forgiveness,” both play with subtly ascending and descending crystalline synths, other sounds only briefly interrupting their lilting movement. Some gentle, crunchy synths click rapidly as the second track opens, but as it progresses they disappear, leading to a steady softness and a sense of lingering. The indiscernible voice which speaks far away towards the song’s end lends the work a human element which is pleasant, although ultimately unnecessary. Soft Fascination already feels like an all too human record despite Druss’ assertion that his work “explores the balance between physical being and the incorporeal, non-being.”
“Duty as Devotion,” the album’s closer, plays with the broadest dynamic range as well as a more discernible melodic line than previous tracks, but the initial building up of, again, gentle noise and echo, eventually fades to let the voice of experimental opera singer Micaela Tobin emerge. It’s a brief appearance for both Tobin and voice on the record, and the only moment where the voice becomes a true musical element. Tobin’s operatic vocal style can’t help but imbue the song with a sense of theatricality that, while not entirely absent from the rest of the record, was previously only hinted at. The song is the dramatic climax, as it were, for an album which mostly prefers to linger in the space between elation and unease.
Is there a word that describes the state of being overcome by emotion in response to the everyday? The press materials for Soft Fascination reveal the album to have been conceived around the birth of Druss’ child, context which illuminates the album’s paradoxical evocation of both intoxication and balance. While not lacking in sonic highs and lows, the emotions evoked by the record don’t feel dramatic per se, but rather find a kind of subtle elation, if there is such a thing, in rumination or, as several tracks on the work reference, devotion. (Jennifer Smart)