The latest from Welsh Psych-Folk-Prog alchemists Soft Hearted Scientists (SHS) is a 24 track “song cycle” divided into 4 parts and consisting of songs and often very brief but strange and fun transitional bits.
The album opens with melodic acoustic guitar and spacey electronics, and quickly moves into a dreamy organ led segment, and from there the trip takes off. The transitional tracks simultaneously tie things together, break things up, and just generally add fun variety. SHS frequently flex their experimental muscles a bit on these tracks.
We’ve got some great songs too. Drifting Away is a classic example of what I’ve come to recognize as a trademark SHS sound, where a mystical and beautifully melodic brand of Psychedelic minstrel Folk-Prog traverses through multiple segments and is enhanced by all manner of zany alien space electronics. Nothing sits still for very long on an SHS song. The Ups and the Downs is a playfully head-bopping ditty that sounds like its being performed in some cosmic pub. I like head scientist Nathan Hall’s description of the album as “homemade and spooky and innocent and timeless”. You can feel the homemade part, but these guys are studio craftsman and masters of incorporating effects into songs that most others would keep stripped down so that the song can speak for itself. For example, Away is a beautiful song given a magical quality with a ghostly, almost cavernous sound, and peppered with whooshing effects, haunting organ, and more. I like the floating away feel of the cosmically pastoral Psychedelic Folk-Prog tunes Sonar Rays and Cobra Clouds. For You is a somber yet lovely tune with a luscious mix of acoustic instruments and simple yet effective keys. I love the sci-fi salsa swinging to a Casio beat Robots Remember. Cwm Cadian is a bouncy and hypnotically lovely acoustic guitar and keys instrumental. And there’s so much more.
The vocals and harmonies are a huge part of what SHS are about, and the lyrics are deeply personal and often quite surreal. Of all the SHS albums to date, The Slow Cyclone may well be the most complete full album experience; you really must hear all 24 tracks from beginning to end. Now that I’ve been immersed in the SHS catalog for a couple years I’m convinced that there’s no way to adequately categorize this band, and analogies to others are tenuous at best. They’re like a Proghead’s idea of marrying 60s Psychedelia, traditional minstrel/pub styles, and Karlheinz Stockhausen, and then shoving it all down Alice in Wonderland’s rabbit hole. If you like both magic and fun, then SHS are for you. Highest recommendation!
For more information visit the Soft Hearted Scientists web site at: http://www.softheartedscientists.com
Reviewed by Jerry Kranitz