By Julie Finley
Let me start off by saying it has been very hard for me to enjoy anything lately. This year has sucked the life out of me due to being in constant pain. When you are in pain, it is hard to focus on anything but agony itself. That agony becomes mental anguish on top of the physical distress, thus making everything worse. In order to break through the grip of throbbing torment long enough to take notice of anything else, it has to be of either A) exceptional excellence, or B) something that sucks worse than your current state. In the case of Foetus’s Soak, it is of exceptional excellence!
However, in order for me to review Soak honestly and fairly, I have to write my thoughts on this from my own perspective, not one that is typical of a music review. Sure, I could sit here and write some swirling text of cues taken from a thesaurus, so I look like I have street cred amongst every other elitist asshole reviewer out there, but I refuse to do that. In fact, I am going to review this album like it’s going to be the last album I ever listen to!
It probably won’t be, but it may as well be the last review I’ll ever write in regards to a new musical release. Between my discomfort and the fact that I am no longer interested in writing persuasive text in how I perceived something that is a matter of opinion anyway (not factual), I don’t really see the point in this exercise any longer, other than to support a musical concept that I can get behind 100%. So with that said, this review is going to take the path in a very first person perspective, as in how this album has fit in with my everyday life. I can’t speak for anyone else, but myself! So if you don’t like the tone of where this review is going, stop reading and go form your own fucking opinion on this album!
When I first received Soak in the mail, it was less than two weeks past back surgery. I was still in a very immobile state when I got it: lots of bed rest, using a walker (just to get myself to the toilet and back), and being very careful not to tear open the three-inch incision in my lower back. I took notes as I listened, but not lengthy notes. I wrote down the visual thoughts I had when listening to it. I am a very visually inclined person, so whenever I do hear something, I always get a visual thought as my initial reaction. I wanted to keep some notation of my first impression of this, to see if it would continuously bring me back to my initial thoughts upon future listens. Would I always think the same thing whenever I heard it again, or would I form new opinions as I went along?
The last actual Foetus album was Hide, and to be honest, my first impression of it wasn’t good. It did change drastically over a period of time, but a few things about it still stick with me as an irritant. Of course, my first listen of Hide was when I was at work, and had my headphones on, trying to block out a shitty day so I was constantly distracted by something that was pissing me off in my environs, and unfortunately that is the visual I am stuck with. With Soak, I may have been in pain, but I was in the comfort of my own home, with no other distractions. My mind was much more focused, and willing to listen.
The first song on the album is “Red and Black and Gray and White,” and I was immediately impressed with that as an opener. The terms I scribbled down when I first heard this were “Sound-Off,” “Red Army,” and “Dolemite.” So what does that mean exactly? It means that I thought it sounded like a mixture of the cadence of a military march, and a Blaxploitation film score. The percussion in this one is some of the best I’ve ever heard in JG Thirlwell’s entire repertoire! The lyrics chant “Red and Black and Gray and White/Don’t mess with my copyright!” and I laughed out-loud at that, because not only was it a nod to the cover design of Thirlwell’s “Foetus” discography, but it was also in tune with the humorous commercial-like slogans that Thirlwell used to incorporate in his older lyrics. He hasn’t really been writing lyrics with zingers in them for several albums, so it’s good to see he hasn’t lost that part of his sense of humor. I also felt that since Soak is supposed to be a companion (or sequel) to Hide, that opening with this song was a better approach than with “Cosmetics” on Hide. “Cosmetics” may be a great song, but as a listener, I felt like it was being shoved up my ass with no lube! “Red and Black and Gray and White” is a much better way to break the ice!
The second track, “Pratheism,” is another in the vein of old Foetal behavior, meaning taking certain words, and then melding them together to make new ones (similar to “Rickyisms” from Trailer Park Boys). It appears that “pray,” “atheism,” and “pantheism” are ingredients in that particular eggcorn. What I scribbled down on first listen was “Damien, The Omen” because that is exactly what it sounds like: the film score to The Omen series. The opera voices (which are another tie-in with Hide, since it was the first time Thirlwell used opera singers on a Foetus record) only solidify my thought that it sounds like The Omen! The use of Latin chants adds to this effect. The refrain in it is perfect: “I am not your son/I am not your daughter/I am not your slave/I am not your martyr/I am not your god/I am not your victim/I have no defenses against the obvious!” FUCK! I wish I could’ve said that shit to some of my former employers! Overall, I think this might be one of the best songs on this album.
The third song, “Alabaster,” is lyrically very creepy, but yet so beautiful and fragile. My notes indicate I wrote down only one thing, “Anita Lane.” That is who came to mind upon first listening. I could visualize her lithe frame, delicately dancing and so peacefully alone, just as she does in her video for “Jesus Almost Got Me.” The song (for me at least) evokes a breakable female, or the ghost of a broken girl. Strangely enough, Anita Lane’s name appears in the “Thanks to” section in the liner notes.
I had previously heard the fourth song, “Warm Leatherette,” on the Recovery 7″ box set, as well as because it is a cover, but a much improved one. I never really cared for the original song, but I quite like this version, because the music really brings out its sleazy motives with gusto.
“Kamikaze,” the fifth song, is clearly floating on the same boat as “Paper Slippers” from Hide. My notes say “Lucy in the sky with Strawberry Fields,” which means I thought it sounded like The Beatles in 1967. Sgt. Pepper and The Magical Mystery Tour were both released in 1967, and “Kamikaze” could fit in with both albums, except that the production work is better (but the vocal recording isn’t). I do like this newer harmonious vocal approach that Thirlwell has been experimenting with on the last few albums, but I don’t like the use of distortion mixed with it. JG (if you are reading this): you have a good voice; you don’t have to mask it with distortion! Otherwise, this song is gorgeous!
The sixth song, “Halloween/Turbulence,” is a Thirlwellian interpretation of John Carpenter’s classic (and simply effective) spooky theme from his Halloween films. What is really fucking odd about this is how eerily this works its way into my own private life. In the days leading up to my surgery, I had to call my surgeon’s office to straighten out some insurance bullshit before going under the knife, and when I was put on hold, that Halloween music was the hold music! So I put it on speakerphone whilst waiting, and my husband said “Y’know, I’m surprised that Thirlwell-guy hasn’t done a version of that song . . . or has he?” What is funny about that statement is that my husband doesn’t even particularly like Thirlwell’s music. He tolerates the fact that I like it, but clearly as little as he does listen to it, he’s picked up on some signature nuances that are common themes in Thirlwell’s musical palette. I just sort of laughed and said, “No, he hasn’t covered it, but he should!” The other strange coincidence with this one is the fact that the disc I ruptured in my lower back happened during heavy turbulence when I was on a flight coming back from Denver and it happened. This will forever haunt me! So was this interpretation any good? Of course it is! It’s better than the original!
The seventh track is “La Rua Madureira,” another interpretation of the late, great Nino Ferrer. This might be one of the most beautiful recordings that Thirlwell has ever attempted in his entire career, and quite honestly, he has outshined Ferrer’s! The original sounds like jazzy lounge music (which is not a bad thing), but Thirlwell takes it in an entirely new direction and makes it his own. The original song is superb, but Thirlwell’s version made me write only one word: the Portuguese word “Saudade” (a word that has no equivalent in the English language). It made my eyes water and I got a lump in my throat! This one is incredible, and again, JG if you are reading, do NOT shoot yourself in the heart like Nino did!
“Danger Global Warming” is the eight track, an instrumental that was originally composed for the Danger Global Warming Initiative project. The version on Soak is a remix, and I don’t know what the original mix sounds like to compare it to, but quite honestly, I don’t think I need to… since this version is awesome. The words I wrote down on my first listen “Shitty weather,” “flooding,” “insurance claims,” “selfishness,” and “suffering animals.” Strange how a song with no lyrics can evoke more terminology than one that does have words! It was pouring outside when I first listened to it, and there was a snowstorm two hours before that, which is indicative of how the climate has become unpredictable and dangerous due to human insatiability. I like the use of animal sounds towards the end of the mix, indicating that this issue isn’t only affecting humans, but it’s fucking with the rest of the earth’s beings. The cow mooing could also be interpreted as a methane issue.
The ninth track, “Spat,” is quite easily the epic that stands out regards to Soak. The placement is excellent on this album in that it slaps the taste back into your mouth. Like, if you were just about to get all comfortable, here comes “Spat,” and it spits in your face! Lyrically, it is by far the best on the entire album, and the best parallel for this one is how “The Ballad of Sisyphus T. Jones” stood on its own on Hide! Musically, you feel like you are being dragged out of your bed, and thrown into a crocodile pit. This one I’ve been playing more and more during my recovery, now that I am in hardcore physical therapy. It’s motivating me to not be so complacent. Was that Thirlwell’s intention, to be motivating? Probably not, but for me it works!
The tenth track is a remix of “Cosmetics” by the Secret Chiefs. The placement of this on Soak is better than it was on Hide, but I like the Hide version better. This one just sort of rearranged the order of the song, and threw some louder guitar sounds in it. It wasn’t a bad remix; it just wasn’t as good as the original.
Finally, the last track “Mesmerin.” There is this female vocal sample from a film that I know I have heard before, but I can’t quite place it (and it’s bugging me). It is creepy in the same way “Alabaster” was, but a really good way to cool down at the end of this album. My notes only say “Return to Waterloo,” which means something about this song reminded me of the score to Ray Davies’s film Return to Waterloo. I remember a female voice echoes throughout the more dramatic scenes that sounds similar to the sample in this one (but it’s not from the film). However, there are visuals in that film that this could easily fit with, like the scenes where the father has flashbacks of his now-missing teenaged daughter and how he used to watch her undress. It’s just unnerving, but yet the song evokes such an overwhelming calmness, that it hypnotizes.
So back to my initial theme: how does this fit into my everyday life? It’s the only album I have listened to throughout my recovery. I am still recovering, but I am getting stronger, and this album has been beneficial in helping me along. It was a stimulating listen when I was immobile, but now that I am gaining momentum, it has an encouraging undertone. This is due to its immense creativity, which inspires me to want to get through this slump in life, so I can get back to doing the things that I enjoy partaking in, particularly artwork. This album has been medicinal, even though I know that is not its intention.
Soak was released on October 15 via Ectopic Ents and is available now from Foetus.org.