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Soft Shoulder
No Draw Dustin Krcatovich , December 1st, 2015 18:08

James Fella, as far as I can tell, is one of the DIY underground's truest believers. His band Soft Shoulder (which is often, but not always, just him playing every instrument) has stuck fairly close to its template of clattering no wave-ish songcraft for a decade now, evoking a hot purple streak of vintage Rhys Chatham and Mars despite the fact that his Arizona surroundings have precious little to do with Ye Olde Downtown 81. Strains of previous revivalists and outliers since that initial NYC blast - Galen, Trumans Water, Scarcity Of Tanks, Sic Alps, Hospitals - run through the signature Soft Shoulder sound (say that three times fast), too. This being the band's tin anniversary, though, it's safe to say that some of those guys are more fellow travelers than influences. Throughout Soft Shoulder's lifespan, Fella has kept a steady stream of releases - mostly 7" singles - trickling from his own Gilgongo label, with renowned trawlers like Not Not Fun handily catching the side-spray from time to time. He really churns it out with the best of them.

All told, these poor old ears are almost too damaged these days (in more ways than one) for Soft Shoulder’s brash basement sturm und drang, but to hand it to Fella and the band(s) he's assembled for No Draw: they've still got the spunk for it. The A-side of this hot and short offering hems to pretty standard song lengths and genre-appropriate moves, leaning to a more melodic strain than the aforementioned no wave tag might suggest; some tracks even recall some of Thurston Moore's more piss-and-vinegar moments, albeit largely minus his taste for post-Beat word sloppage. These are the sort of numbers, no doubt, that most work the Arizona underground dwellers into a lather: they're tough, true, and not even bereft of hooks.

For my gristle-encrusted sound palate, though, side-long album closer 'Repeat #3' is where the band really drives it home and kisses it goodnight. This track is nearly twenty minutes of numbskull repetition and noodling free-rock riffs that rivals SoCal freak family Gang Wizard in its ability to be somehow graceful while still being totally dunced out. It’s perhaps the deepest plunge into a sexless boogie abyss that I’ve heard since Oneida's 2002 moment of greatness 'Sheets of Easter'. Mind you, it’s significantly less frantic and draining than all of that, and it fades away rather than burns out, but that's not a problem (no matter what Neil Young has to say about it). All in all, a fine piece of gunk, the kind of thing that makes me feel a little less pessimistic about the continued presence of the guitar-bass-drums hegemony, which I've otherwise largely repudiated.

No Draw admittedly does little to reinvent the wheel or build a better mousetrap, and it's unlikely to expand Soft Shoulder's sphere of influence too significantly. That sounds like a criticism, but it's not: actually, it's why I said earlier that Fella is a true believer. He's done this for a decade whether people were paying attention or not, and he’ll probably keep doing it, or something like it, for some time to come. Stragglers will surely come and go, but the band keeps going for the people who really dig the vibe, and for their own kicks. Unless they do things way different down there in the desert, Fella is by now too deep into adulthood to keep going just for the sake of being "cool" (and frankly, Soft Shoulder's sound wouldn't be the shortest route to the heart of youth, anyway). It’s a music that is for real and for keeps, whether you like it or not.