Gold Souls: rethinking the Chapel Hill band SOON’s amalgam of hard rock sound

by Angela Perez

I drove over to Chapel Hill last night to see one of my favorite Chapel Hill bands, SOON.  I wrote about them a few weeks ago (click here for that post) after seeing them for the first time at everyone’s favorite downtown Raleigh dive bar, Slim’s.  At that time, in my gin-clouded mind, I categorized the band as sorta folk metal, smooth and lush with breaks of booming cacophony.  A lot of that impression was further tempered by listening to the single they shared on their Facebook page.

But after seeing them play a show last night in the tight dark dank cocoon of The Cave, I’ve changed my mind.

A run-down of the players includes:

Mark Connor: guitars
Stuart McLamb: guitars, vocals
Thomas Simpson: drums
Rob Walsh: bass, vocals

These guys make their own signs and t-shirts.  The DIY work ethic is alive and well in Chapel Hill.  Who doesn't dig that?

These guys make their own signs and t-shirts. The DIY work ethic is alive and well in Chapel Hill. Who doesn’t dig that?

This particular show at the Cave felt less like a bar gig and more like sitting in on a practice session in Rob’s living room while everybody smokes a bowl, swills beer and works through a practice set.  It was chill and comfortable and you could tell that this bar is where these fellas hang their hats regularly.

As to the music, it’s still heavy and it’s hard.  But it ain’t quite metal like I thought it was.  It’s some kinda hard rock.  It’s complicated.

In a haphazard way, it channels the motley scrape and grind of those Sub Pop-label bands getting signed in the 80s and early 90s like Tad, Green River and Mudhoney – before the grunge moniker was finally plastered over a generation of bands and it all got a little bit cleaned up for church.  The motley-ness of the music jibes with the look of the band, because this is an unkempt bunch of handsome lads with no discernible adherence to a particular fashion or style.  These fellas rolled outta bed and put on whatever was sorta clean and showed up for work.  And that’s what I like about them – they aren’t trying to fit the part of some genre, they aren’t playing a heavy metal/hard rock part.  They’re just jamming hard and in a bizarre fashion that rubs like half used-up sandpaper on stained cheap silk.

The harmonies generated amongst this crew remind me of the very earliest days of Jane’s Addiction – a tin-like rough exoticness as Mark, Stuart, and Robert sing in unison, pounding their instruments, yelling in restlessness, with Rob adding a Lemmy-like growl that reminds you that this is an amalgamation of a lot of shit.  Despite all of these comparisons I am making, SOON is something uniquely its own, nothing feels derivative.  But you can indeed feel the pedigree in it all.

The drummer pounds, pounds, pounds the shit out of his drums.  You watch with bated breath, waiting for his sticks to break in half, or at least fly out of his hands and impale some cute bouncing pixie girl through her pretty blue eye (these days, soft little pixie girls ironically wearing cut-off Misfits t-shirts and sporting fringed bohemian bags are just as common at hard rock/metal shows as hard-smokin’, heavy black eye-liner, fuck-you-up-with-her-jack-boot biker chicks.  When these pixie chicks start doing shitty cocaine off the backs of toilets while listening to Kyuss, I MIGHT start taking them seriously).

Along with the pre-grunge grunginess of the music, I distinctly got the lazy, dark dissonance of some of Pavement’s most grinding songs (oh wait, all of Pavement’s songs were grinding – grinding indie rock into a wet pulp and refashioning it into something caustically catchy, but only to misanthropes).  This is all to say, there’s a similar indie rock vein running through SOON.  Stuart McLamb can do the metal yowls but they are kept in check by a Stephen Malkmus-like arrogance peppered with self-loathing that somehow inflects his vocals.   I dig it.

And then there are the flashes of this century’s Oregon-brand of atmospheric, washy folksy metal like Yob and Agalloch.  Like those guys, SOON’s music is powerful in its metal reverie but all that other grungy, indy stuff never lets the music realize itself as particularly metal.   And I like that.  For me, as a fan of the earliest Sub Pop stuff, a major fan of Pavement, and a budding fan of Oregon-style atmospheric hard stuff, these guys hit all of my hot buttons.  This band is like that guy who you didn’t expect to fall for because he doesn’t fit in any of the categories on your wish list and he doesn’t look like you’d planned for your new lover to look, but somehow, despite upsetting all of your expectations as to what turns you on, this guy does it for you in a way no one else does.  So you date him and you’re happy.   That’s SOON for me.

I don’t know what the term is for the music that SOON is playing or what it ought to be – but I ain’t seen anything around like it and I look forward to our relationship.  I hope we never break up.  But I never do stay in relationships for very long.  And it’s never me, it’s always them.

P.S. You might wonder, after reading my first article about the band, how can I find so many varying elements – that reflection compared to this one doesn’t read exactly the same.  But that’s the wonder of this band – they surprise me each time.  It’s never quite the same.  Possibly depending on how high one or all of them are, but who cares?  That kind of wondering inflicts a need, a jarring desire.  Oh yeah.

Stuart McLamb can do the metal yowls but they are kept in check by a Stephen Malkmus-like arrogance peppered with self-loathing that somehow inflects his vocals.

Stuart McLamb can do the metal yowls but they are kept in check by a Stephen Malkmus-like arrogance peppered with self-loathing that somehow inflects his vocals.

 

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