‘Welcome aboard the southbound Lassitude 432 to Grim Town/If you are standing, please continue to stand/There are no additional seats’ is not how you expect most singer songwriter albums to start. But, from the off, it seems as if Grim Town is a wholly different one of those records.
The opening train announcement sets the tone for a journey for ‘the lonely, the disenfranchised, the disillusioned, the lost, the grieving’. From this sombre opener you could expect the tone of SOAK’s second album to be a hopeless one, but much to the album’s benefit (and its detriment at times) this is a hopeful set of songs.
‘Knock Me Off My Feet’ is a vibrant, indie pop tune that manages to sound as much like early indie Tegan & Sara as it does new era 80s pop Tegan & Sara. ‘Maybe’ is equally as joyous, with the wonderfully simple line ‘Envy got the better of me/Least I’m a past your eyes still see’. I really found myself drawn to these more uptempo moments, where magical moments like the flutter of trumpet that ends ‘Maybe’ break up super catchy songs.
There’s a honesty in SOAK’s delivery, not only as a singer, but as a songwriter too. Even on the songs that move between hooks she explains her own experiences so effortlessly. Actual opening song ‘Get Set, Go Kid’ sums this up perfectly, every turn the song takes in tempo and style being held together with relateable lyrics and an entrancing performance.
The delightful ‘I Was Blue, Technicolour Too’, which probably ended up as my favourite song on the album, sits at the centre of the record where it dives between sounding like a simple track on an album one minute, to a crashing mixture of loads of songs together, before ending like an acoustic live performance. Grim Town is at its best when it’s not only keeping the listener on their toes, but it’s giving more and more on each listen.
I wasn’t a fan of everything here though, where the album begins to unravel a little as it continues. Its 54 minute run time feels excessive on the likes of ‘ybftbyt’, which becomes more of a tedious drone than a welcome song. ‘Valentine Scmalentine’ has a dreamy quality to it, but just didn’t connect with me in the same way to so much of Grim Town did.
I wonder if as a set of songs it would actually work better out of the ‘Grim Town’ context that bookends the album. Personally it had me expecting some more of a thematic journey for the listener, when in fact much of the subject matter and depictions of a personal story probably didn’t need that context to work.
It’s promising to see an artist take creative leaps like this on their second record, but for me it actually prevented me from fully getting into the album as one overall experience. Some stand out tracks for sure, but Grim Town just misses out on being a truly great album.
Words by Sam Atkins