Disappointments. We all eventually have them when it comes to new albums. Over the years, I’ve had times where I tried to prop up disappointing albums, but I’ve learned to be honest with myself and with the artists. Soup is back with what the band says will be their final album. It is called Visions, and it releases on November 19th.
Soup is a band from Norway. They have been making music for quite some time, since 2005 or so. The lineup on this album consists of Erlend Aastad Viken on vocals, keys, and guitars, Orjan J Langnes and Oystein Megard on guitars, Jan Tore Megard on bass, and Espen Berge on drums. Also involved are the Giant Sky orchestra.
Soup plays an enlightened and ethereal brand of modern progressive rock. I don’t even like using “progressive” to describe them, though. There is something more transcendent, bewitching, and towering about their style that really attracts me. I love their sound so much.
That had never more been the case than on their 2017 masterpiece Remedies. That album will always be one of my all-time favorite albums for all its crystal-clear melodies, gigantic crescendos, and heavy emotions. Visions, I’m afraid, doesn’t have the same effect on me, and there are several reasons why.
Don’t get me entirely wrong here. Visions has solid material, the makings of a great album. I think I need to discuss what I do like before I mention what I do not. First, I think this album has a good sense of whimsy and vintage charm. The melodies here are subtle, pensive, and truly beautiful. The album has an overlay of vintage style that makes it feel like a vinyl or cassette is playing, and I like that to a certain extent. I also love how psychedelic and eerie the entire affair is. This album is rather reserved overall, and the textures and ever-so-slightly offkey moments add character.
Now for my negatives. I feel that the album is incomplete, lacking real inspiration in most of its tracks. Most of the songs seem to be missing something, maybe even a little love or passion from their creators. If you loved the towering melodies of Remedies or even the quirky and squirrelly ideas on The Beauty of Our Youth, you will find none of that here. Remedies would build into a frenzied crescendo at times, and the band would take those notes still higher until my heart leapt into my throat. Visions, however, doesn’t really affect me at all. It leaves me feeling apathetic.
Additionally, what strengths this record does have are often muddled in post-production. I mentioned that Visions has some absolutely beautiful and subtle melodies, yes, but the vintage layer I also mentioned has been taken to the extreme at times. Often, those melodies are almost completely absorbed and covered by the post-production distortion that has been added. I honestly don’t get the distortion thing, no matter the band. Even my favorite bands have messed with it. I don’t understand wanting to blur the composition to the point that one can’t even enjoy or really hear it.
Now, I don’t mind it once in a while. But on Visions, the vocals are distorted and almost completely indecipherable, except for a few moments here and there. Some of the best melodies, such as on “Crystalline”, are muddy and ruined, especially near the end. The noble organ that is used with such pomp in Soup’s sound is also veiled greatly. Look, there is much to love here, and maybe it will sound good on a high-end system, but for the average listener, this album is a muddled mess.
And it is a shame, too, since some of the songs are great. I should mention that the album runs about 40 minutes, but honestly feels more like an EP, all said and done. “Burning Bridges” opens the album as a fifteen-minute epic, and it suffers greatly from the aforementioned distortion. I do like the playful psychedelics, though, and the instrumental in the second half uses trumpet to great effect. “Crystalline” comes next and is probably my favorite. It has the poetic and understated vocals that I love from past albums, feeling nostalgic and interesting. It certainly has the most memorable melody on the album, too, again using trumpet and flute very well. The melody is strong enough to stand out in the muddy production, at least until the distortion goes full blast near the end.
At this point, there are only two more songs. “Skins” is separated into two parts, and it has its moments. The piano on the first part is beautiful and we get a glimpse at the potential of the melody here. The second track in the suite is parts 2-3 of the song, and while it does get going to some extent, I feel like the second half is lackluster even to what we’ve heard on this album thus far. It definitely doesn’t feel like an album closer since it isn’t very memorable. I should also mention “Kingdom of Color”, the track that separates “Skins”. This track is instrumental and heavily-laden with effects. I get what the band was trying to achieve here with the stark and burning colors, and I do like this track. But the overall effect again comes off as murky and unfocused, and I kept waiting for the big finale that never arrives.
After listening to Visions a few times, I still couldn’t believe how little I was connecting with it. I’ve loved this band for a decade now, and this album, while sounding like them, feels like the big and powerful moments are completely missing. It’s almost like the band forgot to write the rest of the record. Or maybe like most of the band wasn’t even involved that much, which might be the case. The rhythm section doesn’t actually show up very often, and there aren’t many guitars, either. Most of the album is electronic and keyboard-driven, which isn’t a bad thing, but definitely makes me wonder. In fact, the Giant Sky orchestra is heard more often than most of the band members. In fact, the album often feels like the leftovers from Erlend’s solo outing earlier this year, Giant Sky (a brilliant work). Hopefully, I can connect with the album more as I continue listening; but, for now, I have to label it as a waste of potential, even with the brief hints at genius that can definitely be found underneath..
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