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CD review: Soft Metals' Lenses

Captured Tracks; Release date: July 29, 2013

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On Lenses, gauzy synth-pop duo Soft Metals explores the gulf between distance and desire. Romantic partners as well musical collaborators, synth player Ian Hicks and vocalist Patricia Hall are hardly the first electro duo to balance eerie detachment with meticulously textured electronics. Pilferings from the ghosts of electronica past include Krautrock, New Wave and Shoegaze, but Soft Metals cheerfully acknowledging their theft while building a distinct, if languid, identity.

Throughout Lenses' eight cuts, Patricia Hall's reverberating purr entwines with Hicks' pulsing synths, grooving onward and outward, but never in too much of a hurry. The title track's space-age bachelor pad melody points to classic Stereolab, while Hall coos like the Sirens of Titan, bored stiff at the edge of the galaxy. The slightly sour Orchestral Manoeuvers in the Dark electronics on "Tell Me" nod robotically to the salad days of The Alan Parsons Project, while the burbling analog glow of Kraftwerk's "Computerworld" hovers over "In the Air." Soft Metal's most heartfelt lyric is also its most dire: The haunting refrain "We all Die" sighs over the dance floor noir of "When I Look into Your Eyes", suggesting a pitch black doppelgangerof The Human League.

Light relief arrives in the jazzy rhythms and cool soul stylings of "On A Cloud", Lenses' most engaging melody. Here, Hall thaws out to emulate the sophisticated pop of Sade. The LP closes with the decaying electro reach-around "Interobserver." The track's spiraling arpeggios tumble end over end toward the center of the Crab Nebula, conjuring up images of countless 1970s Hipgnosis LP sleeves.

With Lenses, ladies and gentlemen, we are floating in space. Yet despite Soft Metals glamorous fatalism, "space" is as much the hazily nostalgic cosmos crisscrossed by Ray Bradbury's rocket trails as it is the cold and unforgiving vacuum beyond the stars.

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