Beginning with a rush of harmony, stuttering drum beats and a whirling mix, Softly Held Together is purposefully constructed to seduce the listener from its opening salvo.
The first track jumps around from dreamscape layering to full on kaleidoscope but never becomes diffuse, the affecting melody carrying the day and inviting comparisons with a more spacey Animal Collective at their dreamiest.
Voices swirl, haunting songs instead of imposing any rules upon them and this disembodied component elevates the song cycles here into sugary slices of abstract pop. This elusive nature of the work never lets itself lose focus and instead the record feels unruly, but thrillingly so. It’s nice to not know where a song might go at any given minute but also heartening to know that any lurches won’t shoot themselves in the melodic foot, any new suite being just as engaging even if it’s stretching at the structure.
What’s surprising is the warmth on offer here as predominantly electronic music can seem so detached and alienating but these are lush and heady brews which seem to pack in an enormous amount. The fusion of live instruments with the technology gives a tension which is not overplayed but is certainly evident, and the interweaving of these disparate elements is deceptively smooth. It must have been a fine balancing act, knowing when to say when on combining the two. Ultimately, the arrangements although hyperactive, come across as quite fluid.
Liberated from strict song progression you might find in a more traditional outfit, Ronan McCann lets the songs morph and breathe, flitting between chaotic sonic bursts to more subdued spacier interludes. Slight variations are expanded upon and allowed to mutate. A melody may begin in some dark corner whispering or chanting before then heading into some colourful cosmos where it can be unfettered in full flight.
When it hits its vocal sweet spot, ‘Sleepless’ has an absolutely irresistible pull, with the band Foxglove providing gorgeous backing vocals, a cascading and assertive pop moment through and through and my personal favourite.
‘Lights/Climbing Trees’ is a great example of the live element, its organic intro gradually becoming wed to a build up of addictive chillwave elements, before it slows down again into an atmospheric lilt adorned with the sound of water falling.
Fitting, as this album is a gorgeous first drop in the ocean for a new talent.