, August 20th, 2013 07:27
Patricia Hall and Ian Hicks first met at a party; Hicks was DJing and the pair were introduced through a mutual friend. They exchanged numbers and kept in touch, sending each other favoured music between their respective homes in Portland and San Francisco. When Hicks joined Hall in Portland, the two began making music together, initially recording covers of Throbbing Gristle and Siouxsie and the Banshees, before becoming Soft Metals and simultaneously, a couple, while working on their debut album.
The details of their burgeoning romance shouldn't really matter, yet it has subsequently permeated many aspects of their music. They cite their creative inspirations as Chris & Cosey, Jeff and Jane Hudson and The Units, all of whose music stems from being madly in love with one another. The cover art on their eponymous debut album depicts a dusty photo of a couple in the moments before a kiss. It's an image of intimacy that pervades the entirety of the album.
Now based in a home studio in LA, the duo have allowed us further into their four-year-strong relationship, panning out their cover art for their second album Lenses to include entire faces – not their own, but that of Erin Frost and Shaun Kardinal, who appear in their recently released music video for 'Tell Me', a voyeuristic visual pulled from a self-portrait film called Hardcore, originally shown at Seattle's Erotica Art Festival. The sexual intensity of their debut becomes intensified by this provocative image of a pre-coital naked couple, and in turn, Lenses pushes new boundaries of comfort between the duo. In terms of sound, the tactile, layered approach that saturated their debut has become stripped down through focused subtraction; Hick's vintage synthesizers are more atmospheric, and Hall's distant, longing vocals seem more contemplated, primarily concerning mortality and the tribulations of existence over churning textured movements and smoky, John Carpenter-esque chords.
Many of the initial tracks follow a path of oscillation, taunting and teasing their way through moments of vibrant fluidity. 'When I Look Into Your Eyes', with its chattering percussion outro and loops of Hall's vocals, meanders in and out of various temporal structures, Hicks' synths often feeling like they're thundering ahead, yet Hall's lazy vocals somehow manage to keep up, while 'No Turning Back' opts for moments of balladry amongst sections of rapidly peppered chords.
When 'On A Cloud' comes around we return again to the exploration of human interaction explored in the album's exterior. In a recent interview Hall stated the song was partly inspired by the moment in cult sci-fi flick Barbarella whereupon the title character is lying in Pygar's nest, post-coitus, singing to herself and caressing her body with his feathers. Hall was reminded of the moment upon hearing Hicks' instrumental for the song, and there's certainly a sensual vivacity to it. You can almost imagine the weary licks of synth and Hall's drawn out vocals being played behind images of Jane Fonda, hair tousled, lying under a layer of natural debris, exclaiming "Oh Pygar!" over the steady throbbing of the drum machine.
Many critics have already picked up on Soft Metals' ability to take instruments and influence directly from dance music culture and transform them into something somewhat antithetic. On Lenses, this idea is particularly potent. 'Hourglass' teeters on the edge of becoming a dance track; Hick's acerbic notes played on his Roland TB-303 stir and twitch, yet with every rise in intensity they catch themselves, almost self-consciously.
Perhaps I'm making too much of it all, but its evident from the absence of the club functionality that the duo briefly flirted with in their previous album that Lenses has given way to something a little more erotic, a little more charged; making you squirm in your chair, but not quite getting up on your feet. This is body music, sure, but not for crowds of people eager to move - this is music to spend the night in to.