EP: Softcult – ‘Year Of The Snake’

Like the serpent that it’s named after, Year Of The Snake, the second EP from Canadian duo Softcult is a determined effort to shed the skin of past trauma, reject toxic behaviours and make space for healing.

Informed by their experiences of sexism and objectification as young women in the music industry, twin siblings Phoenix and Mercedes Arn Horn’s debut offering Year Of The Rat (2021) was a collection of bittersweet, grunge-infused sounds that soothed the sting of a painful past. On their follow up record Year Of The Snake, Softcult continue to dissect these difficult memories, but with a renewed focus on how they can use them as the foundations for true self autonomy.

A seething take down of the all-too-familiar excuse “Boys will be boys,” opener ‘BWBB’ sends a direct message to enablers of toxic “bro-code”. Heavily distorted riffs and crashing percussion drive home the message “Boys will be boys / but these boys are men / and these girls didn’t ask / to be touched by them.” It sits in powerful contrast to closing track ‘Uzumaki’, a heavy lament about the “vicious cycle” of PTSD caused by the behaviours the pair attack in ‘BWBB’.

Softcult’s hard earned emotional resilience shines through on ‘Spit It Out’ and ‘Gaslight’. The first is a brooding extrapolation on rejecting unconscious bias, whilst the second is an urgent, shadowy exploration of that “sinking feeling” of self doubt in an unbalanced relationship. On the more introspective ‘House Of Mirrors’, the pair channel their fears of falling short through swirling riffs and soft dual vocals, whilst ‘Perfect Blue’ is a melodic reflection on compromising your identity to please others.

Antagonistic and tender in equal measure, Softcult’s Year Of The Rat is a melodic reckoning, urging listeners to peel away the remnants of self-doubt, trust their instincts and to allow themselves the time and space to heal.

Listen to Sofcult’s new EP Year Of The Rat here

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Kate Crudgington

EP: Tokky Horror – ‘I Found The Answers and Now I Want More’

If you love The Prodigy’s ‘Firestarter’, Tokky Horror’s latest EP I Found the Answers and Now I Want More is the exhilarating debut you need to hear. Hailing from Liverpool, London and Manchester, the virtual hardcore collective made up of Zee Davine, Ava Akira and Mollie Rush layer growling guitars with EDM. The result? A cyber goth masterpiece that hits you as hard as MDMA.

Kicking wormholes through genres, the queercore group mix rave and rock to produce a record that emulates the same intense and futuristic energy of The Matrix. This is the kind of special EP you need to listen to through both earphones to fully appreciate.

Dragging us into a new dimension is the brazen, pulse-racing opening track ‘Girlracer’, which launches listeners into punk-infused drum and bass. Lyrically tearing apart the pop culture bond between masculinity and fast cars, the song revs its engine angrily at the expulsion of women from hyper-masculine spaces, which Davine notes often includes “dance culture itself.”

The beats on ‘Simulate Me’ pulse at levels that could match a Love Honey vibrator. Laced with laser synth sounds and erotic imperatives like “touch me / love me”, the song frankly takes on the topic of virtual love and dating, particularly fitting for the pandemic restriction era we are living in. Next up is ‘Godliness’, which stands out against the others and offers a slightly mellower take on electronic rock. As Davine says, “I think we show our more expansive side on ‘Godliness’…it’s us letting our guard down a bit for something more genuine.”

With croaking, shrieking vocals and distorted heavy guitar sounds, ‘Eden on Acid’ is probably the most punk-sounding song of the EP (and my favourite track too.) It’s only one and half minutes long, yet has an edge and intensity to it that reminds me of the intro of My Bloody Valentine’s ‘Only Shallow’. Finishing with ‘Sleeper’, Tokky Horror strips the opening riff from The Beastie Boys ‘Sabotage’ and creates an exhilarating build-up to a hypnotic refrain. A strong end to an EP that shows off the trio’s instrumental momentum and individuality.

Listen to Tokky Horror’s new EP, released via Alcopop! Records, here.

Follow Tokky Horror on bandcamp, Spotify, Twitter, Instagram & Facebook

Jay Mitra

EP: Barrie – ‘Singles’

The list of famous Barries in pop music essentially extends to one very short (if pretty successful) list of Messrs White, Manilow and Gibb. Newly added to that list are the five people who make up synth-rock combo Barrie, led by songwriter and lead vocalist Barrie Lindsay. Although based in New York, the group are a diverse bunch with three Americans (Barrie, Spurge and Noah), a Brit (drummer Dom, formerly of Is Tropical) and Brazilian (bassist Sabine). Originating from the songs written by Barrie as a solo performer, the group largely came together through Brooklyn’s The Lot online radio – before finding Sabine through an ad on a dating app. Their new EP, released on sky-blue 12” and tape cassette, brings together the bands’ three singles to date, coupled with remixes by FaltyDL and Shura (‘Canyons’), and Brother Michael (‘Michigan’).

First single, ‘Canyons’, originally released in February, kicks things off. Drops of bass act as a counter-point to funk guitar and sparkling top-note synths that dovetail with Barrie’s icicle vocals. As the track’s instrumentation spins into multiple layers, the sounds move towards shimmering dream-pop but with something chilly underpinning it, like an autumn evening on a beach.  

Second single ‘Tal Uno’ follows, arpeggiated and sweet, like an ’80s prom-night slowie, conjuring up images of frilly dresses and spinning glitter-balls. The key, again, is the gentle synths and their blend, contrasting with the song’s vocals – although here the rhythm section step up to flow closer to pop territory. If Tiffany had a cool older sister who made synthwave, then ‘Tal Uno’ is what she’d sound like. ‘Michigan’ completes the move into pop, verging on soft-rock with its nagging, hooky drum-machine and picked guitar. The synths are used here to offer a background melody, with vocals that are warmer, breathier and more vibrant on top.

In interviews, Barrie have said that their sound is a “future longing for hopeful nostalgia” and a reflection of the band’s qualities as “eclectic, accomplished [and] confident”. And it’s hard to disagree when the group’s first EP arrives sounding quite so polished and ice-cool. Between the chill vocals and imagist lyrics by their lead singer, the multiple layers of intricate percussion and infectious melodies, the group’s chill-synth soft-rock stylings prove that Barrie are truly ready to enter the pantheon of pop.

Singles is out now via Winspear.

John McGovern