Indie pop duo Soft Swells took to the West Coast from their Big Apple home in 2009, where they drew inspiration for their Cali-esque moniker and now deliver a sharp edge to the Los Angeles music scene. Singer/songwriter Tim Williams initiated the Soft Swells project with former Phonograph vocalist/guitarist Matt Welsh and signed to Modern Outsider Records, having since released their first single, “Every Little Thing,” in 2011 and, most recently, their debut self-titled EP in 2012. Williams earned his fair share of experiences back in Brooklyn, where he released three solo records through Dovecote Records. Partner in crime Welsh formed Phonograph in 2005 and toured with the likes of Chicago’s alternative rock outfit, Wilco.
Soft Swells are one of those rare bands who's name actually fits pretty perfectly with their music. Named after the soft swells of the ocean that surrounded singer/songwriter Tim Williams while living in California in 2009, the band's debut album is a gentle mix of melancholy and effervescent indie pop, rising and falling peacefully like the Pacific Ocean. After moving back to the east coast, Williams completed the duo with guitarist Matt Welsh of Americana band Phonograph. Their self-titled debut album together was recorded in just a week, but it sounds carefully crafted, with every drum hit and atmospheric touch in the right place. The gorgeous atmospherics, electronic touches, and indie/country sensibility strongly recalls Wilco (not so surprising considering Welsh's Phonograph has toured with Wilco), but Williams is a strong enough writer and storyteller to ensure that the album sounds distinctly his.
Lead off track “Every Little Thing” is probably the albums strongest. Building off a simple guitar line, Williams' vocals are charmingly yearning while instrumentation builds and collapses around him, feeling full but not overproduced. Like the best songs rooted in singer/songwriter and country traditions, it would sound just as good stripped down to nothing but acoustic guitar and stomping percussion. “Shake It Off” umm, shakes off the downhearted feel, turing up the testosterone and taking on a more barroom rock band vibe as Williams sings “shake it off/turn it up.”
However, like many singer/songwriters especially those with an eye on roots music, Soft Swells is at their most compelling when they turn up the melancholy. “Don't Cut It Off” leans towards indie rock with big drums and distorted electric guitar, but it's William's vocals that cut to the front, simple, to the point, and beautifully distraught.
Soft Swells is one of those records that's bound for repeat listens. Breezy and easy-going but flecked with enough sadness to give it depth, it's perfect for everything from sunset coastal drives to chill afternoons.