Somewhere between shoegaze and synth-pop, tackling frustration, anxiety and confusion, this powerful debut shows it's never too late to follow your dreams
The Soft Cavalry’s eponymous debut is borne out of an old-fashioned love-story. Until 2014, Steve Clarke – the group’s mastermind, lead vocalist and guitarist – was working as a jobbing musician, providing backing vocals for various musicians whilst also balancing work as a tour manager. In 2014, Clarke was asked to work with the newly reformed Slowdive, where he met their vocalist and guitarist, Rachel Goswell. The two married four years later and The Soft Cavalry were born. Goswell, Clarke says, enabled him to finally make his album debut – and it’s been a lifetime in the making.
While Clarke is the main creative force behind the album’s lyricism, thematic approach and soundscape, Goswell’s contributions are significant. Her ethereal vocals contrast well against his earthier offerings. So too does her vision, which has enabled this project to exist somewhere between a shoegaze and synth-pop hinterland. Goswell is also Clarke’s muse: “Waters break and we are born restlessly into the arms of this unknown,” he wrote for the gorgeous, lullaby-like ‘Passerby’, on which Goswell is central both as vocalist and inspiration.
Opener ‘Drive’ sets the tone well with layered synths, dreamy textures and sparkling guitars reminiscent of early Mercury Rev. “I’d grown up with guitar bands and I didn’t want it to be overly guitar-y,” Clarke recently explained. “We evolved things by trying out ideas. We’d build things up, then strip them back and build them again.” ‘Drive’ is a good marker of this pattern, as is the ambitious ‘The Velvet Fog’. An overt, guitar-driven opening – reminiscent of the indie bands Clarke grew up with – eventually becomes a mere echo, drenched in hazy reverb and grandiloquent, expansive synths. Its cinematic crescendo is repeated on the more experimental ‘Bulletproof’ and ‘Careless Sun’, which are both underscored by trancier drum-beats and low-fi leanings.
Where the sound of Slowdive’s dream-pop has marked this debut, it’s never anything more than a respectful homage – and one that avoids veering towards parody. The Soft Cavalry have an idiosyncratic sound; one that’s also largely driven by their strong thematic angle. Fate, love and new beginnings offer hope amidst songs that candidly address frustration, anxiety and confusion. “All we can do is wait for the banks to burst and baptise our abandoned fear,” Clarke delcares on the delicate ‘Careless Sun’. The album features stripped-back balladry. Bold, gothic and stark, it offers a glimpse of the future as the band explore the uncannier nature of the self, too.
The Soft Cavalry’s’ debut is ultimately the story of a musician who had given up on his hopes to make music, fearing the moment had passed, until Goswell provided him with the self-belief, resilience and stylistic tools to continue. It’s a love story that even the greatest cynic should be moved by. This is a remarkable later-in-life debut, and one that proves that it’s never too late to make the record of your dreams.
Releas date: June 5
Record label: Bella Union