One of the best songs to come out of Aotearoa in 2020 was “My World/Your Girl” by Soft Plastics, a towering creation of monumental pacing and heartfelt balladry. It felt like a hushed secret shared between the band and myself; the track seemed to grow in grandeur with every listen.
If you’ve made an indie rock number at that level, then, it makes a lot of sense to have it lead your debut album, even if said record arrives three years later. “My World/Your Girl” duly opens Soft Plastics’ first full-length effort, Saturn Return, released today, but it’s far from the only highlight on the album.
Combining brooding shoegaze with endlessly atmospheric indie rock, the other eight tracks are fuzzy and fascinating, the sound of a trio – Sophie Scott-Maunder, Jonathan Shirley, Laura Robinson – fully in sync.
At every turn, Scott-Maunder is an agonisingly pretty singer, even when she’s singing about the darkest of emotions, reminiscent of Hope Sandoval or Trish Keenan.
Behind her voice, it’s the unhurried pace of these tracks that lend them their magnetic power: Soft Plastics’ sound feels like an antidote to the sugar-coated addictive rush of so much modern music, where tracks feel like they’re racing to their end. Sit back, relax, listen, engage; the world could do with slowing down for a moment.
I saw Soft Plastics at The Others Way where, despite competing with the frenzy of Che Fu & The Kratez above them, their Galatos Basement set offered a much-needed respite from the energy of the street, their swirling introspection and languid pacing enthralling those in attendance.
From that 2020 single to The Others Way to today, it’s a pleasure to hear their finally-released debut album deliver so much on their promise.
Rolling Stone AU/NZ asked the Te Whanganui-a-Tara trio to break down each track on Saturn Return in more detail, which you can check out below. The band will then embark on a national album tour in May, which will conclude with a hometown show at Meow on June 2nd (more information here).
Soft Plastics’ Saturn Return is out now.
“My World/Your Girl”
In 2020 we released our first version of this song which was recorded live with just bass, guitar and vocals. It was a change in direction for us as a band, and has been a special song ever since. For the album version we wanted to push it further, making it grander and more orchestral sounding with reverbed drums, mellotron and cello. Think ’60s power ballad with a dash of Angel Olsen in the mix.
“Easy to Forget”
Easy to Forget was our attempt at writing a happy indie pop song. The song is about being in a long-distance relationship and discovering how to be alone without forgetting who you left behind. We got the talented Mark Perkins, AKA Merk, to provide some beautiful backing vocals on the track.
Thematically and lyrically, “Loozer” is about self-sabotaging situations and making decisions based on wants rather than needs. It was one of the earliest songs we wrote as a band while we were still working out our own sound. We released it in 2021 as a single but decided to re-record it for the album with a more studio quality.
“Anything I Wanted”
“Anything I Wanted” is one of the more dark, moody and groovier songs on the album. Sophie plays a strong bass line that leads the charge throughout the song and our producer James got to have some fun with the production. We wanted to make the vocals almost ASMR-style with lots of swirly phasers on the guitars.
This song was originally called “Sophie Sad Song” until we renamed it for the album, because it was Sophie’s saddest song yet. We recorded a long outro, not knowing how or when we were going to finish the song. We got Charley on board to add his cello parts, which added the final magical touches it needed.
“Disembody” is a deeply personal song about being unable to communicate with someone. It has some really nice musical elements that diffuse the lyrical aspects. Jono plays the Fender Rhodes keyboard, which he was eyeing up in the studio and wanted an excuse to play. During the recording session, James turned off our clicks during the breakdown to make it feel more free and less restrained.
Our drummer, Laura, came up with the initial riff for this song. We named the song after her middle name, ‘Darcie’. During the last chorus we got some friends to sing some gang backing vocals, including the lead singer of Hans Pucket, Oliver Devlin. It’s one of our favourite songs to play live.
Written to be the last song on the album, “Someone Else” captures many of the different musical aspects of the album with the guitar tones, electronics, strings, vocal reverb. It’s a cathartic song, which maybe shows how we felt going through the creation of this album.
“Saturn Return” is the title track of the album as it ties a tidy little bow around some of the themes of the album. We finished the details of the song at James’ home studio, which is high on a hill, and the clouds were rolling in that day – it was quite surreal!
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