EP REVIEW: Softcult – ‘see you in the dark’

Artwork for Softcult’s ‘see you in the dark’ - an eye in a negative filter, cut out with jagged edges

Looky here—it’s the next big thing! That’s the impression you’d get from Softcult anyway, who’ve been on something of a tear lately when it comes to really establishing themselves. Twins Mercedes and Phoenix Arn-Horn are no strangers to the industry, having spent almost a decade-and-a-half as the core of indie-poppers Courage My Love, but in all that time, they’ve never even sniffed the same reach that Softcult are currently experiencing. Plaudits come from such top-end names as Hayley Williams and Oli Sykes, somewhat contrasting with the DIY, fan-focused ideal that’s become the duo’s M.O. Add onto that a stream of singles fusing dream-pop, grunge and pop-rock to pretty tremendous—and distinctive—effect across the board, and cataloguing this particular rise is far from a challenge.

That last part is important to consider when noting how nailed-down Softcult already are in their creative direction. Even down to their scrapbooked, monochrome aesthetic, that’s been sorted since the beginning, as has the steady rollout of new songs compiled together for their EPs. The brand holds just as much purpose as the band, though they aren’t slouching in that department either. Indeed, Softcult were effectively fully-formed at genesis, with ancillary tightening and tweaking that leaves see you in the dark as their strongest collection yet.

For starters, you can really tell this is a handful of previous singles grouped together, more for the elevated overall strength than any lack of cohesion. That’s barely an issue, to be fair, as Softcult’s dreamy, shoegaze-y take on modern pop-rock lends itself exceptionally well to glazing over anything and everything they’ve got to make it fit together. It never falls into the background either, a frequent trap laid by those sounds avoided thanks to spellbinding hook-work on Dress or Someone2me. The ‘pop’ end of ‘dream-pop’ holds remarkably firm, to Softcult’s entire benefit.

In fact, it wouldn’t be too hard to extrapolate a lot of this into the duo’s indie-pop background. A few brighter tones and splashier layers would definitely put tracks like Drain or Spoiled into that camp, though there’s certainly benefit in keeping some distance. There’s license there for Slowcult to wash themselves in bleaker tones and melancholy, courtesy of some heavier grunge guitars perfectly balanced in the mix, and a pretty stark lyrical set all the way through. Beaten down by unending climate catastrophes on Drain, harassment and objectification on Dress and Someone2me, and imposter syndrome on One Of A Million and Spoiled, the chillier, bleary tone of Softcult’s music feels all too justified.

It’s not oppressively so, though. The pinpricks of light and shimmer remain visible throughout, and while Mercedes Arn-Horn has some expected dejection and gauziness in her vocals, balancing that with an inherent sweetness is a strong move. There’s just an intricacy to how this EP is constructed that’s really compelling, especially when its somewhat piecemeal existence could imply it to be anything but. That’s kind of the kicker with Softcult, a band who’ve got creation in this vein down to a science and proceed to squeeze every last drop of potential from it. But at the same time, they aren’t clinical or wedded to formula in a way that would hinder them. see you in the dark legitimately stands on how deep Softcult are willing to throw themselves into their work, and when you bottle it into a package like this that’s already totally realised and contains barely an inch of wasted space, that’s some potent stuff right there.

For fans of: Teenage Wrist, Slow Crush, Superheaven

‘see you in the dark’ by Softcult is released on 24th March on Easy Life Records.

Words by Luke Nuttall

Leave a Reply