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Album Of The Week

Mass Effects: On The New Soft Pink Truth Album
Bernie Brooks , April 30th, 2020 08:09

Drew Daniel's latest LP as The Soft Pink Truth, Shall We Go On Sinning So That Grace May Increase, is a stunner that revels in communitas while flirting with house music and ambient tropes, says Bernie Brooks

Photo by Josh Sisk

I grew up in a faithful household, but my childhood was anything but stifling, my parents anything but rigid. They were defectors from their respective holy orders. My father had been a Roman Catholic seminarian, my mother a nun. Both had found their callings, temporarily at least, while in their teens, and had become disenchanted with the church as an institution by their twenties. Its resistance to change was stultifying. They had been rabble rousers in their way, influenced by liberation theology. To them, a primary function of religion should be helping others – no matter who they might be or what they might believe – while the primary function of religion as an institution should be to provide a structural framework for the helping of others. My introduction to Marx and leftist thinkers and the arts was through the books they had amassed while cloistered, so to speak. Still, though they seemed perpetually agitated by the church's positions, we attended mass as a family every Sunday.

I've never been a particularly religious person – not in the traditional sense, anyway. Nor am I even remotely interested in mounting a defense of the Roman Catholic Church as an institution or at the macro level. I don't think it's possible, anyhow. I can say that my experience with it at a granular, micro level was both formative and positive, and that these experiences feel at the root of my cultural heritage more than anything else. But then, my parents were open, accepting, progressive people. Their friends, too, as I remember them: a shaggy, kind, brilliant bunch that seemed to thrive on the irritant fringe of one of the largest, most powerful bureaucratic hierarchies in the world. Dissent was often the default position, and I grew up comfortable in the knowledge that I, too, could dissent, that nothing about the church is infallible. It is, after all, only made up of people.

Drew Daniel’s latest release as The Soft Pink Truth, Shall We Go On Sinning So That Grace May Increase?, has improbably dredged these memories up from my neural silt – or maybe not so improbably, given its title and cover art. As strange as it might seem to those of you whose last experience with Daniel’s solo project was Why Do The Heathen Rage? – a fabulously bacchanalian, club-nightmare reworking of classic black metal tracks – for me, his new effort somehow embodies the rhythms of mass. Or perhaps more accurately, my memories of the rhythm of Catholic mass. Which, for the unfamiliar, is a repetitive endeavor of a somewhat startling musical range. Hymns, chants, moments that lull you into a contemplative, nearly meditative state, and others that shake you out of it. If you were a kid bored out of your skull by it all, you know what I mean. A good friend of mine is fond of jokingly chanting the eucharistic doxology, saying, “My favorite song, dude,” before cracking himself up. Anyway, it sinks in.

And so it goes with Shall We Go On Sinning, an album designed to both inspire calm as well as disrupt it. One continuous piece of music split into tracks to appease the streaming gods, the LP begins with ‘Shall’, a lovely, layered accumulation of voices singing the record's title over and over again, before giving way to the crackling of fire (or is it the rippling of water?) and the soothing, almost devotional house music of ‘We’. (Has any genre of “secular” music ever been more filled with church, with community?) Throughout its first half, the album flirts with ambient tropes, its reliably reoccurring, looping piano figures maintaining a spiritual connection to house music, giving the listener the impression that a 4/4 kick could return at any moment, though it never does.

Instead, just after the album’s halfway point, Daniel shatters the listener’s reverie with a slew of bells, free jazz horns, and walloping kicks. This segment of the record, ‘Sinning’, for those following along at home, heralds the beginning of the album's more chaotic, rambunctious half, while also acting as a kind of wake-up call, maybe even something like “a swift, spiritual kick to the head,” as Minnie Driver's character puts it in Grosse Pointe Blank (a recent shelter-in-place rewatch). The horns stick around. Something like an organ pops up later. Everything is ecstatic. Fully illuminated. ‘Grace’ fakes an afterglow comedown before blowing wide open with depth-charge subs and a wild vocal loop. ‘May Increase’ allows the energy to fully dissipate. The feeling, having gone through it all, is utterly refreshing, akin to renewal.

So, what’s Daniel, a self-professed atheist, getting at here? Well, we all know the feeling of church isn’t just for believers – nor is that of communion. It’s human. We find it where we can, in the way that best suits each of us. I find it most often through music, and on at least some level, Daniel is providing a space for it on this record. Although sonically it couldn't be more different than Heathen, Shall We Go On Sinning revels in a similar sort of communitas, though intended perhaps for a different, later stage in life.

In his soon-to-be-published tQ interview with Kristen Gallerneaux, Daniel explains that, to him, the album’s title – taken from Paul’s Letter to the Romans – boils down to, “Are we going to keep doing what we’ve always done and assume that change can happen? Like, why are we so stuck in our patterns?” In response, he has created a deeply humane, humanist record that seems to acknowledge both humankind’s ability to fuck up abysmally – over and over again, through both malignant action and placid inaction – and our need to come together, reject the status quo, and change as both individuals and as a community. My parents would approve.