Soft Kill released Choke in 2016. The record that is by far the one that exceeded my expectations the most. Here we find the group go bolder with their compositions. Songs have much more heft and weight to them, with eight tracks that don’t shy away from the 5 minute mark. Each song is densely layered, transforming their sound into an eclectic mix of synthwave and shoegaze. It’s clear from the music that the band has experienced their fair share of trials and losses during or before its production, as the collection of moods and emotions that fueled this record amount to the strongest and darkest that they’ve ever done. There’s a certain shade of impending doom, of sadness and guilt in its lyrics, with plenty of themes about battling addiction and grieving the loss of people you love.
Sound-wise, the influence of The Chameleons and The Cure are still prominent in ‘Choke’, but not in so much as merely nods to the 80’s legends. Instead I get the sense that they’ve perfected this style of post-punk and darkwave, seeing as how well they’ve molded it into their own vision.
Opener “Whirl” represents just how dense most of the songs in this record are. Tobias Grave’s inspiration comes directly from his struggle to find normalcy of life. The bombardment of synths, hollow drums and glimmering textures represent the noise of life and we, the listener, are at its epicenter trying to make sense of it all. The later “Wake Up” echoes the similar themes, but this time there’s a focus on the fight against addiction. With beautiful riffs, pulsing basslines and echoing reverb, this song represents a search for hope and meaning despite being stuck in a cold darkness. It’s haunting and cathartic, and a true Soft Kill classic.
These intense emotions and dense soundscapes dominate the first half of the record. Yet on the other side we see glimpses of respite from the suffocating darkness. “I’m Beside You” is one of the most comforting love songs the band has ever made, yet one tinged with loneliness and longing. A contrast in mood that’s flawlessly executed. Elsewhere on the title track, the atmosphere turns grim, heralded by the band returning to a minimal composition of cavernous riffs, weighty drums and ghostly vocals. Yet it still carries the same dark burden as its noisier peers, capturing the feeling of loss like no other song can.
‘Choke’ is absolutely one of the best records the band has made so far. In terms of effort and execution, Soft Kill has given their all in this offering, creating something isn’t only heard but intimately felt.