- 26 Apr 19
Derry singer-songwriter envisions her own, unique world and triumphs with her second album Grim Town.
If you’ve ever been to any of the train station stop-offs in Northern Ireland, you’ll have heard the dead-toned voice that blares from the speakers telling you “the 14.01 to Bangor is delayed” or “no smoking is permitted in carriages”.
One such voice opens the first track in SOAK’s second album Grim Town. Only in this world, the voice makes clear “This train is for the following passengers only: Recipients of universal credit or minimum wage. The lonely, the disenfranchised, the disillusioned, the grieving.” No one with pensions, no one with security, goes to Grim Town.
The last SOAK album had its own imaginative worlds. There, the singer turned her native Derry City inside-out with her ethereal dreamscapes. She took us wandering down corridors of the mind where love, uniqueness, difference resided – previously unseen and unspoken.
Grim Town is a bigger world. Here, people deal with the absurd notion of being normal human beings – not as easy as it sounds for the kid in ‘Get Set Go Kid’, who seems baffled by Sertraline, middle city apartments and awkward social situations, while a jingling happy-haunted sound works under the listener’s skin. “You did it, you’re alive!” is the refrain that comes as the song kicks up a gear three minutes in, and everything after sounds like something Thom Yorke might’ve written in the Radiohead glory days.
In Grim Town, desire can be jealousy – can be a curse – especially for the speaker in ‘Everybody loves you’. In Grim Town, house parties can be boring and soulless, but they can also have a weird, alluring sacredness to them, as in ‘I Was Blue, Technicolour Too’.
Here, people make do with the best parts they can, as in ‘Scrapyard’, but they can also contemplate the possibility of “mak[ing] another you”. In more on-the-nose instances, ‘Valentine Shmalentine’ exposes the corporate, image-obsessed heart behind modern love in Grim Town, with a simple yet spine-tingling chorus slicing through the Hallmark sentiments to say: “I need you/I just do.”
SOAK’s first album had her otherworldy voice pulling small moments from the ephemera and penning them before they flew away, all back by a sparse production. There’s a more involved, layered production element. ‘Falling Asleep, Backseat’ stands out because it has some spectacular jazz, piano and percussion strains running through it. The more involved sound – in turn – tests the strength and timbre and emotion of SOAK’s voice, and she rises to the occasion.
There’s so much to enjoy here and for so many different reasons. ‘Knock Me Off My Feet’ opens with the synth-pop of New Order, and goes on to contain one of SOAK’s catchiest hooks to date. ‘Maybe’ feels like an indie spin on a Bryan Adams riff. You could throw in Belinda Carlisle, Banarama, Death Cab For Cutie and Foals and you wouldn’t come close to guessing at what SOAK must’ve been listening to when thinking about this album. She’s outdone herself on multiple levels.
Final song ‘Nothing Looks The Same’ brings Grim Town to a sort of resolution. We’re on the same train as the first song, but now the singer has “changed the frame” – and maybe things aren’t so grim from a different perspective.
What a journey. A true triumph.
Grim Town, an album by SOAK on Spotify