The City of Roses, Stumptown, Rip City- Portland, Oregan has a lot of names, but of all of the things you could call this enclave of granola, doom-poppers Soft Kill just call it home. At least for the moment. The city has rapidly gentrified in the past decade, and development continues through today, unabated. It’s character evaporating like spilled Rainier on the asphalt of a co-op’s parking lot in summer. More than just the loss of a cheap place for midwestern refugees to crash and dream (it should be noted that the westward migration of these folks contributes to the problems of displacement as they presently stand), the changing nature of the city also threatens the memories of those who have left the city, and this world, too soon. Children who cross over a river that we can not forge, leaving only shadows cast by their absence. Their lives and stories serve as the substantive bedrock and animating text of Soft Kill’s latest LP, Dead Kids, R.I.P. City.
Fronted by vocalist Tobias Grave, Soft Kill’s bilious, fate defying, melodic post-punk emerges from the slow-dance phrasing of Grave’s lyricism, twirling atop the icy plateau of Conrad Vollmer and Owen Glendower’s multifaceted instrumentation, a generous and empathic human coronagraphy kept in time by the warm valve pressure and thump provide by drummer Daniel Valadez. Obvious and favorable comparisons to the Cure (especially concerning Grave’s deliver and melodicism) and the swell of the spirit snaring and foggy grooves that back it are, without a doubt, indebted to Unknown Pleasures. But beyond the specific callbacks, and putting aside tired ways these ambassadors of ennui have been reproduced in our present era by lesser artists, it’s the heart that beats at the center of these tracks and the soul that Soft Kill breaths into them, that makes these songs feel immediate and compelling.
“Pretty Face” is pulled along by clean, shimmering leads with Grave’s soulful croon in tow as it twirls on a romantically inclined synth riff. “Roses All Around” patiently shifts through pages of old photographs until it falls through the floor of it’s accumulated memories into an OMD induced dream state, kissed by puckering percussion and let down easy by a gripping bass line, air-stirring tremolos, and Grave’s cloud-cushioned elocution. There are certainly some lively and danceable moments on Dead Kids as well, such as the synth-shock blitz of the painfully affectionate “Wanting War,” and the glistening, post-disco dive-point “Matty Rue,” featuring the guest vocals of Adam Klopp, that unfurls with all the hesitation and hopeful commission of a dove-release on a rainy wedding day.
A loving testimonial to friends they have lost and a city they are losing, Dead Kids, R.I.P. City is a sentimental album where Soft Kill bares its bones fearlessly and without concern for whether they may be broken by malicious stones or widdled to toothpicks by the acidic wind of time. It is an album that embraces life in tribute to those who no longer can, and asks the same of each of us in turn.