Soko’s Scriptural Grief
Originally posted: 8th July 2016
Soko is a French actress and singer, is vegan, a self-proclaimed “Straight Edge” and makes lavish use of filters on Snapchat. Perhaps it is these same attitudes that stray into her music. My first encounter with Soko’s music came in a scene from a gorgeously produced television drama “Forever”, an ABC spin-off. My obsession with that scene came not only from the crisp symbiosis of motion and sound, but also the voice of the artiste which was extremely mournful without losing its youthfulness, so haunting, her voice seemed to reach you from another world. Soko’s style has been pitched against the gestures of Indie Pop, Indie Electronic and New Wave. However, on fully experiencing her sound, it warmly sizes — rather — into the kind of anti-folk championed by Björk and Regina Spektor, atypical of any the pop or electro subgenres. Soko is not trying to be commercial, in fact, on listening to the first song from “I Thought I Was an Alien” — her first studio album — you get the feeling that she is, in a way, begging us to accept her enigmatic form. The opening track “I Just Want To Make It New With You” possesses the following lyrics: You will discover me through my songs/Learn my heartbreaks and fears and depression/Hear all the cracks and the lack of talent/And I hope that you don’t hate me by then. The structure of her music itself, is on first listening, uncanny and stylishly disarrayed, but as you fall deeper into her musical space, you settle into a diabolically addictive rhythm that smoothens the paucity of brio and vitality latent in the album, excusable, given that she debates the vicissitudes of human consciousness, like death, addiction, depression and heartbreak, the clichés of contemporary catharsis.
I have no aversion towards mournful compositions, when powerfully executed, and Soko communicates these elements with the deliberate and poetic thoughtfulness of a disturbed drug addict. Much of her music traffics in melancholy, and she achieves this purgation with her fragile voice often carried along the musical line by the consistent strum of a guitar, the quiver of a violin and on an occasion, the clash of cymbals. These musical components coalesce to assume a splendid coordination that testifies of her seething creativity. Pathos laced songs are not new to the musical scene, Blue October, Blink 182 and Elton John have been churning out tissue grabbing singles since the early nineties, but Soko arrives with a refreshingly raw honesty that could sometimes render her music unfit for public consumption.
Much of her songs are profoundly intimate and you could sometimes feel that you are intruding on a deeply personal conversation. “For Marlon” is typical of such energies as she whispers — as if confiding a secret: But if I get sober, would you swear to love me. So intense is her dolefulness, that in certain pockets of verse, she appears to be on the verge of tears. Panning around this glut of emotions, accentuates Soko’s proclivity to tone down the miraculous and celebrate the lugubrious, a more brutal form of sentimentality.
One might be disturbed by Soko’s apparent flaw in competent editing, in certain tracks, such as “I Thought I Was an Alien.” — the album’s eponymous song — you notice a premature exit, while in tracks like “I’ve Been Alone Too Long” she tends to overstay her welcome. Fifteen songs is a quite a handful for one album, eight songs are sufficient. By the eleventh song, it appears as though Soko has exhausted her arsenals and as such, she retreats to an inundation of instrumentals that stymies her music into monotony. It is these variances that affect the noble transaction between artiste and listener.
An artiste is validated by her preordained reach, it is the audiences who determine her measure of success, and Soko has decided to produce music independent of modern vogue. In “We Might Be Dead by Tomorrow” she closes with the following refrain: “Cause soon enough we’ll die, Cause soon enough we’ll die.” An avid listener who swayed to Kurt Cobain’s brand of grunge in the nineties might delight in these lyrics, however a more casual listener, may be repulsed by these same words. Soko’s shade of sentiment might come off as nauseatingly bold, honest and lurid, but these are the same attitudes that propel her music to its sumptuous state. For some — those who are inept to their suffering and the complexities of modern existence — Soko’s music serves as an epiphany, a scriptural revelation that thickens the world and its despair, but also, a means by which new modes of mourning are discovered, and in no small ways activate a fresh, unique sense of grief. For those who are in close relation with the convolution of the world and themselves, her music is a gesture of solidarity, a way to render their inner complexities banal, and a way to feel less eccentric, less sequestered and less alone.
Yesterday night, it rained. The electricity was out and I lay in bed — Soko mumbling in my ears — watching the water surge over the panes. The music in my ears seized, I could hear the soft thrum of rain again. Suddenly I felt sad. She had created an emptiness in me and escaped into the storm.