Soft Speaker
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Soft Speaker

Chicago, Illinois, United States | SELF

Chicago, Illinois, United States | SELF
Band Rock Alternative

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Aug
15
Soft Speaker @ Cobra Lounge

Chicago, Illinois, USA

Chicago, Illinois, USA

Jun
26
Soft Speaker @ Green Music Fest 1600 N. Damen Ave.

Chicago, Illinois, USA

Chicago, Illinois, USA

Jun
25
Soft Speaker @ Metro

Chicago, Illinois, USA

Chicago, Illinois, USA

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It was only a few months ago that I was writing about Soft Speaker‘s first full-length album, I’ll Tend Your Garden. Now, a scant six months later, they’re back with a new collection of tunes that are quite different from their last release, while staying true to the sound they created for themselves. Vortrobos is eight tracks of jam-heavy rock that improves in some areas that I’ll Tend Your Garden was lacking in, but mostly feels like the next logical step for the band.

The biggest issue for me the last time was that the vocals were buried underneath layers upon layers of sound. So when I clicked on play and heard Paul Foreman’s voice coming through crystal clear on “Fiend,” I knew that this would be more enjoyable. It wasn’t that I didn’t like the aesthetic of having his voice buried, it added a nice bit of mystery, but he has such a nice voice. Why hide it?

The guitars on this record are even louder and crazier than they were before. Nick Rocchio takes shredding to another level on the Cream-like “Jeju Island.” There are great transitions from his crazy swirling solos to a spring reverb that seem effortless and sound amazing. If the whole album were just Foreman playing instrumentals, it would be worth the price.

On the title track, “Vortrobos,” the band head to familiar territory. This track reminds me a lot of “Pagan Pastimes,” and that’s not bad. I really dig that tune. This is a pure instrumental, and it gets a bit spooky and I like that. The band does a good job of mixing the musical compositions together. If the music doesn’t call for words, don’t try to force them in. A interesting instrumental number is way better than a boring song about a cat or something.

The vocals on “Ask The Guild” make me think of Matt Bellamy of Muse when he’s reaching up for those high notes. There’s still a lot of high-octane shredding going on here, but the way it ends and the band moves into the soft and sweet opening of “Breathless (In The Rain)” is perfect. The harmonies are fantastic, and I love the lyrics:

We could die, breathless in the rain Light the trash on fire, cross it off the list of things to burn. I know what you’re thinking now. Sharpening your knives I can stop anytime I want.

You’d never guess the two songs were by the same band, but they go together sublimely.

Soft Speaker display a amazing work ethic dropping two full-length records in a calendar year, and I applaud them for that. As a young band, the need is greater to strike while the iron is hot, and strike they have. Vortrobos is a very strong second effort that builds on all the things the band does well and corrects some of the things they don’t. This new album is better than I’ll Tend Your Garden in most imagineable ways, and the band’s growth in both ability and confidence is a delight to hear.

The release show for this album is coming up on November 19th at Beat Kitchen. Headshadow, another good Chicago band, will also be playing. I’ll be interested to find out if I like this show better than the set I heard Soft Speaker play at Empty Bottle for the Deli’s Best of Chicago showcase. They sounded good, but at a certain point it all started to feel repetitive. Find out for yourself and pick up Vortrobos at the merch table. - Music-Defined.com


Band: Soft Speaker
Album: Vortrobos
Release Date: November 8, 2011

One of the most effective ways, I’ve decided, to establish a difference between Soft Speaker’s I’ll Tend Your Garden — their fantastic debut LP from earlier in the year — and an upcoming followup, Vortrobos, is by comparing a tune from each.

This is despite both songs being, to the average listener, rather unorthodox choices for analysis.

Take “Felician Sisters Convent” from I’ll Tend Your Garden, a more or less musical land bridge between the half hour’s worth of jam that came before it and the album’s eight-and-a-half-minute “Pagen Pastimes” outro.

Some might confuse the two-minute “Convent” as the album’s whimsical sore thumb since its lead instruments (dueling xylophones) clashes greatly next to I’ll Tend Your Garden’s otherwise guitars-heavy sensibilities. If this be the case, then fuck those perplexed souls. They’re missing out on something real good.

I adore “Felician Sisters Convent.” It’s a blip of fluff and fun, and commands your undivided attention for being, simply, such an oddball oddity. It’s a song that shant — because it altogether can’t — be taken seriously.

Vastly different, but in ways comparably similar, is the title track to Vortrobos. A scoche longer than “Convent,” “Vortrobos” is a gothic shoegaze that, like “Convent,” has zero supporting vocals. And in place of those happy pappy xylophones are an organ and psych guitars that, played together, craft a genuine sense of disturbing milieu.

So, what I mean to say here is the sound in Soft Speaker’s next LP is, generally, darker than its predecessor. Its tunes are more demanding to me and taxing on my ears because intensity seems to have shot up considerably.

Darkness isn’t a decidedly good nor bad thing, it just is. But for me, the shift robs Vortrobos of much of the whimsy founded in I’ll Tend Your Garden.

You see, I’ll Tend Your Garden sort of floats along with a kind of improv about it that I hadn’t confronted in new music in quite a while. Take any tune — “Three Beggars,” “For a Handsome Price” — and you’ll notice that they begin one way and then flip and twist into something else (and something else) on their way to their lengthy finishes. (Three songs eclipse seven minutes). These are dynamic songs; some of them all but impossible to determine where they might next go within their allotted runtimes.

Fortunately, Soft Speaker included a song in Vortrobos that does this well. It’s “Jeju Island” — listen here – and man, what a delightful tune. It’s everything an I’ll Tend Your Garden track is: catchy, bright and unexpected. I’d consider it a sister of “For a Handsome Price,” even.

Vortrobos also has what might be the best song in Soft Speaker’s growing catalog. The track, “Ask the Guild,” is afforded surpluses of space to roam and breathe — an attribute I so love about the music of Soft Speaker. “Guild” isn’t in any real hurry to get anywhere at all and, mutating itself many times over, transcends “Pagen Pastimes.”

This would be the short list of things I really liked about Vortrobos. Much of the rest I could enjoy, but not on the order of what I remember so fondly about I’ll Tend Your Garden. An intentional sense of spontaneity I think I miss most.

A reason it felt appropriate to compare Vortrobos so closely to I’ll Tend Your Garden is that they were released so closely together. It’s a rarity to have a band pump out two LPs in a year, but that’s what we get here with Soft Speaker. While recorded in 2010, the nine-track I’ll Tend Your Garden went public in late March/early April. Vortrobos goes live on Tuesday.

I think bands always benefit in the long run when they get as much mileage as they can out of their recordings before marching into the studio for more stuff to play. For an album, then, to already supersede a disc as nice as I’ll Tend Your Garden feels puzzling. Yet the quality of both is a testament to what Soft Speaker is capable of.

So I preferred one over the other — big whoop; that has to happen. I think the greater takeaway is what we get in return for listening to a band like Soft Speaker. I’ll Tend Your Garden and Vortrobos will both get play in whatever my year-end lists will be come December and that, I think, is a worthy consideration. - Chicago Tunes


This week Chicago's Soft Speaker releases Vortrobos, their second album in 2011, and it continues further down the path of it's predecessor I'll Tend Your Garden with interesting results. With each release Soft Speaker grows more confident in the compositional prowess and the musical interplay grows ever deeper as the band grows more comfortable with their skills at developing ever thickening tickets of sound.

The band's approach owes a great debt to the '70s, plumbing the weirder corners of the earlier part of that decade for inspiration. Long gone is the punchy pop that gave us one of the band's earlier standout songs "Mercury Park." This has been replaced by an urge towards the grandiose and we respect the band's commitment to creating songs that are unapologetically larger than life.

On Vortrobos the band grows a tad too self-indulgent at times, allowing passages to stretch on too long without apparent purpose other than unwinding another dose of two guitar lines kissing and caressing each other. It's pretty but distracting. Don't mistake this as a criticism of song length though, since one of the stand-outs on the album, "Ask The Guild," clocks in at almost eight minutes and numerous musical movements and not a measure of it isn't worthy of your full attention. And at just about three minutes the album's title track is a god example of how a song can stretch out beyond its welcome without actually occupying much physical space in the running order.

Vortrobos is the sound of Soft Speaker testing their own boundaries and when a band is brave enough to honestly do that it's bound to get a little bumpy at times. But it's also a sign of a band maturing and figuring out how to deepen their connection with their own music, and when that happens honestly it creates a sort of vortex that swirls around and can have any number of results. In Soft Speakers' case we hear a band figuring out how to travel deep enough into the musical whirlpool in order to create a pull strong enough to pull the listener down there with them without drowning everyone in the process. Vortrobos finds Soft Speaker on the winning side of that equation and we're looking forward to surfing that push and pull along with the band.

Soft Speaker plays an album release show November 19 at Beat Kitchen, 2100 W Belmont, 8:30 p.m., $8, 18+ - Chicagoist


9. Soft Speaker, 'I'll Tend Your Garden' (softspeaker.com)
The first of two full-length albums released by this co-ed quartet this year, "I'll Tend Your Garden" is a haven for guitar lovers. Six-string tones overlap and crash, sometimes hurtling ahead, other times creating huge, cavernous spaces for bass and drums to roam. Though the vocals are fairly nondescript, they become another almost subliminal texture in the band's widescreen sound. - Chicago Tribune


WXRT Best of 2011 playlist featuring Soft Speaker. - WXRT



On this Sunday’s Local Anesthetic we heard another track from “I’ll Tend Your Garden”, the new disc from Soft Speaker. LOVE this record, guys, and look forward to having them visit Anesthetic as guests sometime this summer. What else? An excellent overview of new Chicago music recorded Sunday night at 7:30 on XRT.

- WXRT



There’s some guitar interplay on their new disc I’ll Tend Your Garden that reminds me of the crunch of the first couple of Smashing Pumpkins’ records. Dang if I don’t hear some Phil Manzanera of Roxy Music tones, too. There’s a track on here, “For A Handsome Price” that just FLOORS me. If you listen closely, you can probably hear it blasting out of my office right now.



- WXRT


This past weekend the Empty Bottle hosted Deli Chicago and Betta Promotions‘ shindig featuring four Chicago bands: Dastardly, Secret Colours, Canasta and Soft Speaker. The latter is one of our 11 Bands to Watch in 2011 so we were extremely excited to find a video of Soft Speaker’s performance this past Friday. The band performed “Pagan Pastimes” from its recent full-length album I’ll Tend Your Garden. The original recording is fairly lengthy, but live, Soft Speaker draws it out in a captivating psychedelic blasting jam session.

- Loud Loop Press


Despite having just released their first full-length album, I’ll Tend Your Garden, Chicagoans Soft Speaker have been spending most of their band time in the studio. The analog recorded record went public on April 19th of this year and within a month of sharing their efforts the four-piece band was back at Gallery of Carpet Recording new material. “We recently mixed the centerpiece of the new album, which is a song called “Ask The Guild.” It’s about 8 minutes long. It took us 14 hours to mix that song. Brian Zeiske, who owns and runs Gallery of Carpet Recording, engineers, mixes and masters our material.” (Paul Foreman) After explaining the lengthy process that has gone into recording in this fashion and the old school perks of using Gallery of Carpet Recording Paul summed up his feelings toward the process in saying, “The bottom line is that the analog gear and tape sound better than digital. Some people will say that they can get the same tones using Pro Tools and plug-ins, but I don’t agree.”
In our interview with Foreman and fellow Soft Speaker bandmate Joe Daley, the two informed us that the new album should be available sometime this fall and until then fans can look forward to seeing them play around town, perhaps even jumping on a festival or two over the summer.
For Soft Speaker fans looking for a little more instant gratification, the band will be playing this Friday, May 13th over at the Empty Bottle as part of The Deli Chicago’s Best Emerging Artists of 2010 Showcase.
Read on to see what Paul and Joe had to say about their musical preferences, the songs they hate getting stuck in their heads and their newest record, I’ll Tend Your Garden.


Reviewsic: What is the back-story on how the band came to be what it is today?
To be honest, this question always frustrates me, because it’s virtually impossible to make the answer interesting. You can always refer to our band bio, which is unsubstantiated fantasy and preferable to the truth, which is that Joe Daley and I started off together in a band called The Saturday Nights. That band split and we recruited Nick and Blair in to form Soft Speaker.



Reviewsic: What are your top three musical influences?

Paul Foreman: This is difficult. I hate the 100 best lists that you see all the time in music magazines and websites. They’re meaningless and mostly a humorless waste of time. However, I’ll take a stab at this and go with Neil Young, The Smiths and Spacemen 3.

I was listening to NY’s song “Revolution Blues” yesterday and it kills me. It’s just so brutal and heavy, but not in a sledgehammer heavy metal kind of way. The lyrics are very intense and Neil is full of vitriol. That album, On The Beach, is a masterpiece.

The Smiths are one of the few bands that can boast a virtually flawless catalogue. Every album is damn near perfect. It’s really sad that Johnny Marr’s post Smiths career has been so lifeless. He really hasn’t done anything that I’ve had any interest in since he left The Smiths. I enjoy the majority of Morrissey’s solo material, though. A lot of people can’t stand him, but he’s a legend and a genius. His last LP, Years of Refusal, is excellent, barring one or two pieces of filler.

Spacemen 3: I’ve been into them since high school. One of my complaints about the newer psych-rock bands is that many of them are one-trick ponies. Wooden Shjips are a prime example. I love their sound, but after about twenty minutes of the live show you realize that if you stick around for another twenty minutes, all you’re going to get is more of the same. I don’t want Soft Speaker falling into that kind of rut. Spacemen 3 certainly didn’t. When you compare songs like “Suicide” and “Revolution” to “Lord, Can You Hear Me?” or “Let Me Down Gently,” it’s amazing that they were all made by the same band. It works, though. The Playing With Fire LP is proof of that.

Joe Daley: My current influences are soul brothers like Ray Charles and James Brown. I’m still finding new and fantastic things about the drumming of Charlie Watts.

Reviewsic: Are there any instruments you haven’t worked into a Soft Speaker song that you’d like to see used in the future?
Paul Foreman: It would be interesting to get a small string section on a song or two, but we have been adhering to a rule that no one outside of the band is allowed to appear on our recordings. We did have a pedal steel player guest on one of the tracks from our first EP, but that’s it so far, I believe. I don’t understand these hip-hop albums where ever track features one or more guest musicians, rappers or whatever. I would never want to do that.

Joe Daley: I’ve thought, on several occasions, that a 12-string Rickenbacker would sound great.

Reviewsic: What are the last three albums or bands you listened to?

Paul Foreman: I’ve been playing the new Bibio album, Mind Bokeh (Warp Records), quite a bit. It isn’t as instantly accessible as his last one (Ambivalence Avenue), but it’s really grown on me recently. His stuff is unlike anything else I’ve heard. It’s a clever blend of electronics and plastic soul. James Blake has been getting so much attention recently, but personally I prefer Bibio. I’ve also been buying up mono Beatles albums and 7” singles. It’s been an obsession for me lately and a bit of a pricey one at that. I think Sgt. Pepper ran me about $67 plus shipping from the UK. The other record I just got is a split 7” by Spectrum (Sonic Boom’s post-Spacemen 3 band) and Cheval Sombre. I’m not that into Cheval Sombre, but the Spectrum song, “Mary (long version),” really hits the spot.

Joe Daley: Fleet Foxes ~ Helplessness Blues, The Clash ~ London Calling, The Cars ~ Greatest Hits. We like The Strokes new album a bunch.

Reviewsic: In your opinion, what are the top three worst songs to get stuck in your head?

Paul Foreman: I fucking hate “What’s Love Got To Do With It.” That song is absolutely repulsive. My daughter is nearly 2, so I tend to get Dora The Explorer songs stuck in my head a lot, but they’re usually not too bad.

Joe Daley: This is a rather personal preference type question. For me it would be something like Livin’ La Vida Loca or When A Man Loves A Woman (Michael Bolton style). I once had The Chicken Dance stuck in my head for about a week. There’s something really evil and catchy about The Chicken Dance.

Reviewsic: If you could book a tour with any 3 bands, past or present, who would they be and why?

Paul Foreman: I’d actually love to tour with our Ohio-based friends, Astro Fang. They’re insane and a blast to hang out with. I think we’d do quite well on the road together. As far as fantasies are concerned, there’re two ways to go, in my mind: 1. A tour with Motorhead, partying our asses off non-stop, spitting venom and vomit everywhere and leaving every city we visit a complete wreck. 2. (The more sensible option) A tour with Spiritualized, in which we learn as much as we can from them, indulge here and there, but generally keep our heads on straight and stay focused on our craft.

Joe Daley: We admire Radiohead and The Strokes. It would be a blast to tour with those bands. From what I’ve read, The Rolling Stones 1972 tour would have been have been interesting.

Reviewsic: Lately we’ve been on this kick of revisiting bands we didn’t pay as much attention to in the past and wondering, “Why didn’t I listen to this 10 years ago?”- If you could go back in time and push 3 bands/records on your younger self, who/what would they be and why?

Paul Foreman: It would have been amazing to see The Smiths live. I didn’t start listening to them until ’94 or something, around the time that Morrissey put out Your Arsenal, which, by the way, is a fantastic album. There’s plenty of time to discover new music. I don’t see any reason to berate myself for not catching on to a particular artist earlier in my life.

Joe Daley: My circle of friends had always laughed at and put down Steely Dan. You know what; Steely Dan are absolutely amazing musicians and songwriters. You can’t beat Aja for 1970’s cocaine precision. I always sort-of dismissed Rush as prog rock or slightly nerdy. They are both. But, Rush, I mean, they are just fantastic players. The lyrics are deep and philosophical. I needed a few years to grow into Moving Pictures. I tried to turn on the other Soft Speakers. So far I’ve failed.

Reviewsic: Tell us about I’ll Tend Your Garden- what was the process behind making this record like? How is it similar/different to your previous releases?

Paul Foreman: Because we financed the album ourselves, we recorded it at a breakneck pace, trying to get as much done each day as possible. That added a bit of stress now and then, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I think we work well under pressure. I don’t know if I’d want to find the band in a fancy studio without any kind of deadline and unlimited funds. Things would probably get a little out of hand and we’d wind up with multi-tracked castanet interludes. This was the first time we took a project from start to finish in a professional studio and it was very refreshing. The results are stellar, in my opinion. You can hear the difference between this album and our prior releases.

Joe Daley: The album was recorded at Gallery of Carpet in Villa Park, Illinois. We recorded the drums, bass, and guitars live to tape. At our core, Soft Speaker has a heavy, energetic, live spark. So, the idea behind I’ll Tend Your Garden was to go in and capture our live spark. Granted, there were additional piano touches and organ swells added later. The vocals were overdubbed. We tried to keep the album as organic as possible. Meaning we didn’t rely on a bunch of Pro Tools computer trickery to smooth over mistakes or glitches. Modern music has too much smoothing over in my opinion. I was listening to The Beatles Live on the BBC the other day. There was a couple of tracks were you can hear the bass drum pedal squeaking away. I think that sort of thing is frowned upon in modern music production. The pedal squeak is filter out with some Pro Tools plug-in. But, you listen to this live recording of The Beatles with a very prominent pedal squeak and you think “ahh The Beatles were humans after all.” That’s what we wanted to achieve with I’ll Tend Your Garden. Philosophically, we wanted that pedal squeak. However, it is by no means a garage recording. The sound of the album is extremely hi-fi. It is definitely the most hi-fi record I’ve ever played on. It is similar to our earlier work in that there are fuzzy guitars all over the place.
Reviewsic: How would you compare yourselves as musicians at this point as opposed to when you first began playing together?

Paul Foreman: I think the band has been gelling well recently. Arranging songs has become a very enjoyable process over the past year or so. As a result, we’ve been stretching songs out and letting them breathe more. This is obvious on I’ll Tend Your Garden, which has three 7+ minute songs on it. The rhythm section has gotten very tight. Also, we’ve been influenced a lot this past year by the psychedelic and krautrock that’s been coming from bands like White Hills, CAVE (another Chicago-based band), Spectrum, Hills, Wooden Shjips and Moon Duo. We’ve been working on combining the relentless grooves of bands like that with strong, Smithsian melodies. I think you can hear that on songs like “Pagan Pastimes” and “For A Handsome Price.”

Joe Daley: The difference is night and day. We were good when we started; but now after three years of rehearsing and playing together, we’re starting to find that wordless communication. It’s that thing where we can look at each other and anticipate what’s going to happen. It’s arriving without traveling.

Reviewsic: What are the best and worst band moments so far in your career?

Paul Foreman: Do Division last year was pretty amazing. The sound on stage was fantastic and it was eerie to hear our voices echoing in the open air. It was our first street fest show so we were very excited. I know I was a bit nervous. As far as bad experiences go, we played in Indianapolis the night before Do Division, opening for Warpaint. About 30 seconds into the first song, my guitar completely cut out. It took me a good five minutes to sort the problem out, but it seemed like an eternity. I think the show was fine after that, but it was unbearably stressful for those five minutes.

Reviewsic: Tell us a little bit more about this Deli Showcase you’ll be playing on the 13th- what is the show for and why should people come check it out?

Paul Foreman: The Deli is a music website that has been pretty cool about championing Soft Speaker. We won a contest through that site and the prize was 4 free hours of recording at Gallery of Carpet. That’s how we first discovered that studio. We just rehearsed last night for the gig and it’s a storming set that doesn’t let up much. It should be a blast.

Joe Daley: The Deli Showcase features the Best Emerging Artists of 2010 as voted upon by Deli readers / enthusiasts. The bands are: Canasta, Dastardly, Soft Speaker, and Secret Colours. It would behoove anyone who is excited about hearing the best bands in the City of Chicago to check it out. In all honesty, every band on the bill brings something unique and cool to the table. So, it’s totally worth it for Reviewsic.com readers to come check out the whole gig as opposed to just one or two bands.

Reviewsic: What are your plans for your music in the next year?

Joe Daley: We are planning on releasing our second full length album within the next year. We’re planning some festival shows this summer (2011) including Green Music Fest. We’re planning to get back to our Germanic roots with a European Tour in April 2012. Mach schau!

Paul Foreman: The Burlap Rats, whose track. “(I’ll Read A) Story To You.” is available to stream and download through our website, have asked us to help them record more material, so we’ll probably work with them a bit. They don’t really have their act together (don’t bother googling them or looking for myspace/facebook pages or website), but we’re trying to push them out into the public eye.

- Reviewsic


Soft Speaker‘s first full-length, I’ll Tend Your Garden, is remarkably good. Yes, that just spoiled the surprise and probably ruined any suspense this review may have had in store. It’s just that there is no reason to tiptoe around the obvious. Rarely has an album grabbed my attention this early and held it this often. I’ll Tend Your Garden is such a mix of influences but sounds unlike most of them on the surface.


Maybe perceived influences is a better way of putting it because, although I have confirmation that both Neil Young and Dinosaur Jr. are at least beloved by Soft Speaker singer Paul Foreman, the fact that I also hear Radiohead and Hawkwind in the mix is all on me. You might come up with two or three of your own. The fact that you can’t truly point to any particular song and claim it’s the Radiohead song or Neil Young song is all their doing. It’s also a safe bet none of them own a Hawkwind record.

And maybe you can point to opener “Hawk Mountain Line” as the most Radiohead-ish of the bunch. Foreman’s vocals do warble a bit in a Thom Yorke way. Rest assured it is The Bends-era Radiohead, so guitars rule the day. In fact, I’ll Tend Your Garden is surprisingly full of guitar antics. It is arena-ready in the best possible sense. Take the next track “Three Beggars,” for instance. It’s seven-plus minutes and full of looping bass lines and squealing guitars. I should mention that Foreman shares vocal duties here with Nick Rocchio – who sings on “Three Beggars” – the Morrissey to Foreman’s Yorke if the comparisons are necessary.

Foreman’s songs might sound more spacey and Rocchio’s a bit more maudlin, but the band’s sound doesn’t sway too much one way or the other from song to song. That sound? It’s bold. It’s very guitar centric. It might be space rock but it might be Brit pop.

“For A Handsome Price,” despite starting out eerily like “We Got The Beat,” ends up wrapping a Hawkwind-like riff around some precious vocals. Again, the band let the second half of the song ride a nice little bass line while the guitars solo over each other. It’s a pleasure just trying to describe it.

For good measure, Soft Speaker even throw in a little Afro-pop picking on “Penny, Wait For Me,” a song that sounds like David Byrne fronting Television. Or I could be grasping at straws trying to figure this all out. One can throw out many so-and-so-fronting- this-and-that but really this album sounds distinctively Soft Speaker. That’s why I grew more impressed with the record after each listen.

Maybe a Dinosaur Jr. reference isn’t all that far off. Dinosaur took indie rock and gave it some classic guitar soloing, something at that point that was quite antithesis to the scene. Soft Speaker seem to be doing the same for Brit pop. Radiohead once upon a time made Brit pop rock. Soft Speaker make it space out and then rage with some ferocious guitar work. It’s this oxymoron that captivates. This probably isn’t helping too much, but hopefully you’ll take away that Soft Speaker have given us something pretty bold and rather stellar.
____________________________________________________________________________

•SOFT SPEAKER
•10:00 p.m., Friday, April 1
•Empty Bottle, 1035 N Western
•$8, 21+
_____________________________________________________________________________

- Loud Loop Press


This may be the most unusual thing I’ve encountered in the months that I’ve been writing for this blog. Taking a page from the rock mythology creation guide of 70's rockers, Soft Speaker have built an entire universe for themselves in which they exist as ex-pats making it huge in Austria in the 30's. They’ve crafted an interesting backstory involving a milkmen society, and a cat-selling business that I find both brilliant and humorous for different reasons.

Their music could not, however, sound less Austrian. It does find some of it’s roots in the UK, though. It’s a gloomier form of pop, to be certain. I’m reminded of bands like Joy Division or Echo and the Bunnymen initially…but then the guitars. They just come at you like a bull. There is some really great work on display here, as Paul Foreman blazes through tracks like “For a Handsome Prince” and “Geronimo’s Only Defense.”

If I had to peg it down to something, and it will sound completely random and stupid, but I’m completely serious, it would be this: Joy Division meets Blue Oyster Cult, with just a hint of (insert jam band here-for my purposes I’ll say Disco Biscuits because I’ve never written that name anywhere before). I know that seems like an impossible combination, but that’s what I hear.

Normally I would not find that an appealing recipe, but the folks in Soft Speaker are talented enough to keep me listening. They’ve had the good fortune of getting good buzz from the likes of AV Club and my good personal best friend Jim DeRogatis (not true-he does like the band, we are not best friends), and I can see why.

I mentioned the guitars already, but there’s much more to it than that. The vocals are hushed-almost always. I don’t know why they chose to record it that way, but it gives the whole record a kind of mystery that would have been lost if they were brought to the forefront. It’s almost as if Nick Rocchio exists in some other dimension that we can hear but never see.

There’s a ton of atmospheric production detail to heighten an already pretty out there record, and I can’t really complain about that either. At a few points it feels like maybe something could have been cut out before mastering, but really that’s the artist’s choice, not mine. An example would be “Felician Sisters Convent.” I think the album would be just as good without it. At a little under two minutes, it doesn’t really add anything, and as an instrumental, it doesn’t seem necessary to bridge the gap between “Geronimo’s Only Defense” and “Pagen Pastimes.”

“Pagen Pastimes” may just be my favorite track on this release. Remember a while back when I did a bunch of short capsule reviews of music my friend Jeff gave me? Well this track reminds me a ton of one of the songs off Umberto’s record From The Grave. Especially the beginning, with just the fuzzy guitar and synths. Crazy spooky stuff. And the vocals really pay off on this one, because if it were left an instrumental, I probably would have thought it was a ripoff of that great Umberto album.

Again, Paul Foreman’ guitar blasts off into outerspace and stays there long enough to give Jupiter a second great red spot.

Now the hard part…do I recommend this album? Yes. It isn’t for everyone, but I think if you like flashy guitar with enough fuzz to start another precinct of the police department, you would dig it a lot. I also think that if you’re a fan of any of the bands I’ve mentioned during this review, you should give I’ll Tend Your Garden a shot.

- Chicago Tunes


For four milkmen from 1930s Austria, Soft Speaker had a preternatural grasp on the electric guitar.

The band's first LP I'll Tend Your Garden is bursting with juicy riffs, sheets of fuzz and spacey crescendos. Soft Speaker conjure huge, solid rock songs injected with a healthy dose of Anglophilia.

While Garden offers little that's unprecedented in terms of bare writing, those who love rock from our neighbors across the pond won't be disappointed. The band strikes that tone that's simultaneously upbeat and a little mournful, much like we've seen over the years from Blur and neo-natal Radiohead. That's not to call this mimicry; Soft Speaker take brit-rock aesthetics and break them out of the walls of pop structure, instead letting the single-coils warble into the stratosphere. The record finds strength in moments of improvisation, like in the playful and pedal-fueled climax of "Three Beggars." Guitars swirl over clean and punchy bass as the licks fractal outward. While the sounds may be familiar, they're applied to a larger scope than we normally hear.

The album's second epic "For a Handsome Price" gets a running start with its churning bassline and wailing guitars before falling away in the chorus to gentle '60s harmonies. It's a nice mashup of sounds, as if Belle & Sebastian switched on a stack and cranked the distortion for seven minutes. Though the core structure is simple, the song carries its length without reaching the end of its tether.

The record rests on an oddity just before its climax: "Felician Sisters Convent" comprises only percussion, most of it melodic, for its two minute length. While a little confounding, it does give us a moment to gear up for the record's finale, the eight-and-a half-minute "Pagan Pastimes." Driving and loud, the track spews hot fuzz guitar for most of its length. It may be the least structured of Garden's giants, but effects junkies will certainly get their fix.

I'll Tend Your Garden is a step in a compelling direction. Soft Speaker are beginning to forge an exciting sound, building upon brit-rock with manic ambition.

The record is set for release on April 19th.

- Windy City Rock


Soft Speaker can veer into folksy territory bordering on alt-country and that's pleasant enough. But when they turn up the volume until it creeps on the edges of distortion and urges the rhythms towards a gallop the band blossoms. Their earlier track "Mercury Park" was not only one of our favorite local songs f the last year, it made it onto our best songs of 2009 list with its Dinosaur Jr guitars being kept under control by a rich, honeyed tenor vocal delivery.

Their new EP isn't being released until later this month but here's a taste of what you can expect from the band in 2010. "Marble Mask" masks the tension of the band's better earlier work in a slightly subtler sound with results we find pleasingly expansive. If you dig the track, check the band out tonight when they play a free show at Double Door. - Chicagoist


Soft Speaker
Conditions 12” EP
(self-released)

"Mercury Park", the leadoff song from Soft Speaker’s six-song EP, jumps out of the speakers with a crunchy, guitar-driven buzz. The first impressions recall late ‘80s/early ‘90s approaches; capital-I Indie rock such as My Dad is Dead, Prisonshake, and Silkworm. But once the singing starts, Soft Speaker’s mastery of pastiche is revealed to be far deeper. A bit of warm sentimentality, some mild vocal harmonies, and a little guitar jangle creeps in. Songwriting and lead vocal duties are split between Nick Rocchio and Paul Foreman (ex-The Saturday Nights); Foreman’s songs have the tendency to be slightly more elliptical, though “Barbershop Quintet” has a wistful Burrito Brothers feel that absolutely aches between the steel guitar lines. There are some throwbacks to ‘60s classics as well as the guitar-driven indie they were certainly raised on. Double-tracked guitar solos occasionally fail to inspire but for the most part, Conditions is an undeniably likeable slab of white wax. (http://www.softspeaker.com)
(Justin Wunsch)
- Dusted


Soft Speaker is a Chicago-based four-piece that formed in 2008, debuting with an EP titled Conditions and following it up this month with the five-track Stranger in the Alps. It's tough to classify the band's sound - even after a few listens, everything from alt rock to psychedelic to folk to college rock seems at times appropriate - but what's apparent is that this unit have something special. Tracks such as "Tennyson Tea" and "Weathervane" strike the perfect balance between cryptic and accessible, while the moody psychedelia of "Into the Fog" and "Marble Mask" further set the atmosphere. Add to that the fact that the material on Stranger in the Alps is extremely well-produced and you have a definite keeper. - Windy City Rock


Just got this record in the mail from Chicago rock band Soft Speaker. For a straightforward rock album, this one actually has a lot of different things going on. Sometimes it reminds me of big indie bands like The National or The Editors, while other times it veers into the slowed-down, country-tinged territory of Wilco or My Morning Jacket. This isn’t nearly as weird or otherworldly as most of the stuff we cover here, and for some, I’m sure that’s good news. If you’re looking to listen to some straight up rock music, you could do a whole hell of a lot worse than Soft Speaker. - OMG Vinyl


One of the things I love about relatively new bands is the opportunity to hear the growth of their sound as it’s actually happening, rather than discovering a band when they’re already popular and backtracking to chart the course of their style.

Conditions was a promising debut, but the band seemed to be trying their hand at too many styles with only moderate success at each. On Stranger in the Alps, it’s obvious that they’ve started to polish and tailor their sound. Instead of playing tracks with feedback, drawling vocals, guitar solos, and driving beats that all fight for the listener’s attention, this EP features songs that strongly showcase one or two of those elements while letting the other parts take a backseat. For some bands, that would be a recipe for mediocrity, but Soft Speaker shows that they’re talented enough to make it work.

“Tennyson Tea” serves as the opening track, and it focuses more on the alternately drawling and impassioned vocals and rollicking guitar parts. Upon first listen, it’s palatable enough, but with every following listen, the song becomes slightly more interesting and complex. The rollicking-ness (you heard that word here first) allows for a quick transition into the best-titled song on the EP, “I Stand To Lose My Fortune, Easy.” It’s slightly lamentable tone doesn’t make it boring; rather, it provides a fitting backdrop for a primarily vocal song. The song isn’t necessarily laid-back, but save for a few guitar solos, vocals take center stage here.

Unfortunately, the song that follows is a bit of a yawn. “Into the Fog” sounds just like it’s written—almost as if the band is falling asleep with their guitars still plugged in. The ending instrumental riffs save the song from falling into obscurity, but 30 seconds can’t completely redeem anything.

Thankfully, they wake up for the best track on the album, “Marble Mask.” The percussive introduction can’t be beat, and it provides the track with most of its energy. With nearly a capella vocals and a slower pace for the ending, this song offers a full picture of the band and where they stand now.

If Soft Speaker can teach us anything, it’s that it’s great to hear a debut that is unafraid to dabble in different styles, but it’s even better to hear a follow-up that shows a higher level of precision and focus. The growth shown from Conditions to Stranger in the Alps is promising, so here’s hoping that they can keep the momentum going. - HEAVEMEDIA


For any band starting out, learning how to craft words and sounds to form a song that is likable to the band, first and foremost, is a unique task. When listening to Soft Speaker’s first EP, Conditions, there is a sense of delight and anticipation throughout. If there’s one element that stands out, it’s the Chicago quartet’s love of harmony — both vocally and sonically. At times, it’s almost like the band utilizes all the delicious aspects of '60s-era pop garage bands with the lessons of early '80s indie rock combined with the band’s own unique spin. Somehow it all works. Soft Speaker seems comfortable in the shadows while occasionally stepping out into the light, which provides weight and character to the songs. Their path may not yet be absolutely clear, but Soft Speaker certainly has a good idea of where it wants to go. (Appearing with Helicopters and Passing Ships at Double Door on December 8) --text: Chris Castaneda - Chicago Innerview


Drum-drenched psychedelia, and my favorite discovery amid this year's offerings. - Jim DeRogatis of Chicago Sun-Times


Audiophiles, get ready to fall in indie love with Chicago band Soft Speaker.

By: Amy Dittmeier

I often find myself reusing the term “indie rock” to describe any band that I can’t quite figure out. It’s a cop-out most music critics and writers use I think, probably because the term itself garners more attention than saying what it really is. Chicago band Soft Speaker fits this mold. It would be easy to dump them into the broad category of indie rock, but it wouldn’t be fair to the band. I’ll have to settle for a term of my own creation: crazy, weird psychedelic alternative Midwestern rock. It’s a mouthful but once you listen to Soft Speaker you’ll understand every word of it. Rising from the ashes of the old Chicago band the Saturday Nights, guitarist/vocalist Paul Foreman and drummer Joe Daley found that a two-man act wasn’t their thing and needed to enlist a couple of worthy talents to add to their new project. Old friend Nick Rocchio was happy to fill in as an additional guitarist and vocalist and a short Craigslist ad brought their Blair Douglass on the bass. With such a happy little family set in stone, making the actual music became child’s play.
Soft Speaker has carved out their own piece of the Windy city with their debut EP Conditions. All those kids in the record store wearing Dinosaur Jr. shirts and rifling through obscure 90s LPs would fall in love with Soft Speaker’s sound on this album. Conditions bursts with collective effervescence on their opening track “Mercury Park,” bringing about that euphoric fervor that gets your senses alert and your mind excited. It’s lo-fi with a hi-fi aesthetic. It’s classic, gritty 90s alternative with the spirit of our youth. We all know that good music is hard to find, but Soft Speaker makes it easy to fall in love with them. The track that sold me was “Burden You.” Starting off with Daly’s drums and a great guitar riff, it turns into this high-energy song that can identify with any struggling graduate such as myself, finding themselves ripe with youth but frozen by today’s world. Knowing that most of Rocchio’s lyrics are heavily inspired by his experiences with unemployment makes the connection even easier to make.
Their single “Danger Red” is the best representation of everything Soft Speaker can do with four minutes and some instruments. Douglass’s bass has that punchy low sound that I love, accenting every lyric within the track. It’s like if Pavement had a baby with early Nirvana, pre-Courtney Love. Those solid lyrics, that great natural guitar squeal. That clap breakdown! How could you not love this song?
- Heave Media


Has the phrase indie-pop been overused yet? Is it offensive to say that a band plays indie-pop? Maybe we default to that label when we can clearly define a sound. In their bio, Soft Speaker uses the word psychedelic to describe the band, but when I hear the synths and harmonies, begin tapping my feet, and can almost instantly hum along, I cry indie-pop! Alright, enough with the titles, Conditions in the latest release from the quintet known as Soft Speaker . Now it may just be the fact that I grew up as the biggest Dinosaur Jr. fan on my block, but I find myself hearing their influence more and more in younger bands, and Soft Speaker is not exception. From the raging guitar solo in the opening seconds of Mercury Park to the fuzz and feedback of Danger Red, this albums driving force is the complex and inventive guitar play. Yet, the solos are restrained enough to allow the rhythm, the melodies, and even the handclaps to keep the songs moving and for the most part danceable. In just seven songs, Soft Speaker manages to balance raging guitar solos, alt-country ballads, and an electrified remix track. Conditions clearly sets the stage for bigger things in the near future for this eclectic four piece. - Deli Magazine


Discography

Escape To Majestic Vortrobos
- Live Concert Film
- Sound Track CD
- Digital release
SSPKR-009
7/24/2012

The Jockey
-CD
-Digital release
SSPKR-008
4/20/2012

Vortrobos
-CD
-Digital release
SSPKR-007
11/8/2011

I'll Tend Your Garden (full-length album)
-CD
-Digital release
SSPKR-006
4/19/2011

A Violent Parade
-Singles Collection (digital release)
SSPKR-005
7/10/10

Stranger In The Alps (EP)
- CD
- Digital release
SSPKR-004
03/02/2010

Concerning Your Memoirs / Maybe Baby
- Digital Single
SSPKR-003
09/24/2009

Conditions (EP)
- Limited edition 12" white vinyl
- CD
- Digital release
SSPKR-002
06/05/2009

Effects Will Show Soon / Great Brick Mosque & I
- Digital single
SSPKR-001
11/28/2008

Photos

Bio

THE ORIGINAL SANFTSPRECHER

Under duress from the USM (Unified Society of Milkmen), Joseph Daley, Blair Douglass, Paul Foreman and Nicholas Rocchio shut down their independent milk delivery service in 1929. A smattering of unsuccessful endeavors followed, until they discovered an undeniable chemistry blending finger-picked guitars with lutes and clarinets. Although initially less lucrative than the milk business, the quartet, who settled on the name Sanftsprecher (trans. “Soft Speaker”), were championed by Austria’s Chancellor Engelbert Dollfuss in 1932 and subsequently enjoyed a period of massive popularity in their newly-adopted home country. The band split following Dollfuss’s assassination in 1934. Their only official recording, the 78rpm single,“I’ll Tend Your Garden,” is highly sought after by record collectors. In 2008, enthusiasts of the band purchased sheet music for a number of unrecorded Sanftsprecher songs that were discovered in Rocchio’s safe deposit box in UniCredit Bankengruppe. Austria’s Tonkünstler-Orchester Niederösterreich has been recording interpretations of these songs and releasing them for the public’s listening pleasure. Separately, a ramshackle group of Chicago-based musicians has taken it upon themselves to perform and record these songs in a strikingly rudimentary manner with crude electric instruments, much to the dismay of purist fans who prefer the orchestral versions.

DOLLFUSS WRITES VORTROBOS

Prior to accepting the office of Chancellor of Austria, Englebert Dollfuss was a soldier with the Austro-Hungarian army, fighting on the Alpine Front in WWI. Although he was highly decorated and well-regarded, his time in the battlefield had a significant effect on his psyche. It did not help that his diminutive stature was the source of great amusement for his peers, who referred to him as "The Jockey." He grew insular and took to writing lengthy works of fiction, featuring eerie parallel realities inhabited by characters who were obviously based on himself. Although his writing skills were limited, the stories were detailed and engaging. These pieces of fiction inspired a large batch of songs written by Sanftsprecher between 1932 and 1933. It is believed that the members of Sanftsprecher were among a very small audience with whom Dolfuss shared the stories. The present-day Soft Speaker (Chicago) recorded a selection of these songs and has released them as this album, Vortrobos, which borrows it's title from one of Dolfuss's works. The cover art was created by Chicago-based painter, Jason Brammer, and is the artist’s interpretation of one of Dollfuss’s parallel realities.