Portland’s Soft Kill defined the sound of 2010’s post-punk with their raw energy and spunk. A decade later, we see their sound evolve, dipping into the introspective depths of folk and fading into darker themes and textures.
Band leader and frontman Tobias Grave has gone through several life-changing experiences. One of them involves addiction and substance abuse, owing to the opioid crisis that’s currently plaguing their hometown of Portland, Oregon. This has been a constant inspiration for the band’s music and their April release Premium Drifter sheds light on the issue. This demo album is comprised of tracks that didn’t make the cut in their upcoming fourth LP, Dead Kids, R.I.P. City. An album pays that homage to those who have lost their battle or are currently suffering in the streets. Don’t let the “demo” label fool you, this collection stands on its own and can easily go alongside your favorite indie records, even with its minimal arrangement and production.
There’s a sadness and gloom that engulfs the sound of this album. From the droning guitar riffs of opener “True Lies” that staggers along a tumultuous bass, to the cavernous atmosphere of “Build Your Prison Walls”. Listeners are submerged into a world that’s bleak and full of doubt. Lean in closer though and you’ll find gaps along the lines where light seeps through. Within these small pockets are hopeful vocal harmonies and guitar lines that glisten along the gray clouds.
The title track embodies this theme perfectly with its active pace and Grave’s defiant vocal inflection. The song goes through a gradual ascent in its 4 minute runtime. Insisting on not giving up, a triumphant statement that faces the bitterness of life head on. Another standout is “Your Very Worst” with its intricate arrangement of shoegaze riffs. The verses brood with a heavy heart, but the chorus ascends into a kaleidoscope of wondrous colors, creating a contrasting tension that resolves beautifully.
Although the band’s sound has seen a gradual change through the years, this iteration encompasses the band’s name perfectly. These are no doubt heavy topics, but they are delivered with such tenderness and understanding, embracing the paradox that is Soft Kill.
The current year has been harsh, it can sometimes feel like the odds are slowly getting stacked against us. It makes the notion of experiencing art with heavy themes feel that much exhausting. This album isn’t that though, Premium Drifter looks at the world in its current state. Dark and difficult at times, but there’s always a glimmer of hope to strive for. A hope that things can get better.