Independent Spotlight is a continuing series on Stewart’s blog. The series revolves around independent artists and bands sending their music to Brett to review. No band is promised a positive review, and all music is reviewed honestly in an effort to better independent music.
In this morning’s edition of the Independent Spotlight, we shine our gaze on Soft Ledges, an indie rock duo from Chicago that has their eponymous debut album set for release November 18. Consisting of Shelley Miller and Chris Geisler, Soft Ledges boasts immense multi-instrumental musical contributions from both members. That, of course, makes the bombastic nature of these songs even more remarkable. Let’s dig into them and determine if they’re worth your time this November.
Soft Ledges kicks off their first album with a tune called ‘La Niña.’ It’s arguably one of the most compelling introductory tracks on an independent album that I’ve heard in 2016. The track is an eerie, bluesy, even soulful explosion of indie alternative rock with Gothic stylings. Miller’s lead vocals pierce through the soundscape with remarkable elegance.
‘La Niña’ also sets a precedent for Soft Ledges as a musical entity. Yes, they’re a duo, but goodness, their sound is much larger than that of two people. ‘Tear Me Down,’ for example, follows with a hard-hitting landscape chock-full of thick bass riffing and erratic percussion. I’d argue there’s a punk influence to the way Soft Ledges approaches songs like ‘Tear Me Down’ as well.
In contrast to its predecessors, ‘Orion’ is a much more subdued affair. It’s a melancholy, poetic excursion that marks some of the stronger lyricism in the collection. The tonal shift is welcome, too, especially after two tracks of sheer intensity. It’s not often indie acts that explore experimental and shoegaze-esque territory also have solid lyrical content.
‘Deer Fly Blues’ is completely doused in atmospheric reverb, aligning itself with ‘noise rock’ in its latter minutes. (It is a long effort, at six and a half minutes.) The structure of ‘Deer Fly Blues’ is reminiscent of Lou Reed’s ‘Heroin.’ It begins with a more rigid, traditional structure, and it slowly devolves into a noisy cacophony as it reaches its finale. (Or evolves, I suppose, depending on your preference toward noise music.)
‘The Bells and You Beneath’ is an intriguing effort, largely due to its instrumental composition elements. It has some particularly searing displays of electric guitar, which banters perfectly off a thunderous percussion section. Miller’s vocals, however, do seem to be mixed forcefully. She doesn’t occupy the soundscape like previous tracks, but rather, she sounds mixed ‘outside’ and above it, if you will. The result feels slightly less organic than its predecessors.
‘Long Way to the Ground’ is one of the undeniable peaks of ‘Soft Ledges.’ The track is simply stunning. The composition is a bit folksy in nature, combining soft acoustic percussion with a sparse, wonderfully effective electric guitar. Miller’s vocal performance is haunting. The ethereal nature of the track is sure to send a chill down one’s spine.
‘Seven Stories’ furthers the aforementioned punk rock parallel. The track even sounds like a tune off the cutting room floor of Patti Smith’s ‘Horses.’ I’d be surprised if Miller hasn’t derived some influence from the Godmother of Punk. In fact, the following song, ‘Highlight Reel,’ sounds like some of Smith’s later creations as well. (It’s also an especially fascinating tune that explores long, drawn out droning instrumentation.)
Another song on ‘Soft Ledges’ that explores the duo’s sonic diversity is ‘Don’t Wait,’ a soulful track that aligns nicely with ‘Orion’ and ‘Long Way to the Ground.’ ‘Don’t Wait’ is a song that could be performed by Norah Jones, which is a notable contrast to my Lou Reed comparison earlier. Soft Ledges has versatility in spades, which is of the utmost importance in an inundated indie rock scene.
The closing of the album, ‘Ladder,’ is one of the more emotionally poignant endeavors in the ten song collection, thus rounding out Soft Ledge’s sound in a superb fashion. I’ll make one more parallel: ‘Ladder’ sounds like Soft Ledges listened to a fellow Chicago-based band, Wilco, and took a cue from them. The instrumentation of ‘Ladder’ is evocative of ‘I Am Trying To Break Your Heart.’
This is a spectacularly good debut album. In fact, it’s arguably better than some albums seasoned performers put out long after they’ve made their appearance on the scene. One of the signs of a powerful musical act is the ability to expand prowess across an array of styles. This album does that very well. I’d love to see Soft Ledges continue to expand and grow their artistry. This is an act that should never bother getting comfortable with a specific sound.
Check out the album when it drops; it’s very much worth your time!