This SOAK article was written by Stephen Butchard, a GIGsoup contributor. Edited by Gavin Wells
“The teenage heart is an unguided dart. We’re trying hard to make something of what we are” sings Bridie Monds-Watson on ‘Be a NoBody’. Her voice is woozy and vulnerable, shaking as it floats above sparse guitar plucks. It’s a line that’s been quoted extensively in the build up of hype surrounding her debut album, ‘Before We Forgot How to Dream’, and for good reason; it acts as SOAK’s mission statement – to express all of the profundity that comes with chaotic teenage years. It’s a lyric that could be found scrawled in the diaries of many an awkward teenager, but SOAK’s sincere delivery and expressive vocals make her relatable lyrics feel weighty in their own right. Audiences and critics alike have been wooed by the Derry born songwriter’s thoughtful approach to a much covered topic, earning her a mercury nomination and a passionate following in the process.
Tonight at the Caves, its clear to see why. ‘Be a NoBody’ is immaculately performed, with sharp, minimal verses that swell into a delicate chorus. It remains urgent in execution without SOAK ever having to raise her voice. This is mainly because of how gorgeous that voice is. Her thick derry accent is rich and distinct, while her ear for an emotive melody line allows her to be commanding in no matter what part of her wide range she’s operating in.
Set highlight ‘Sea Creatures’ is even more impressive, pulling the intimate crowd in with evocative lyrics that elegantly capture the agony of watching a friend suffer. Her backing band keep their playing simple for the most part, which is a blessing during this song, by giving SOAK’s vocals enough space to have the emotional impact they require.
Unfortunately, on songs such as ‘Reckless Behaviour’, these arrangements feel underwritten and clunky in delivery. Rather than keeping up the momentum, the chunky guitar strumming and ham fisted drum patterns in the song’s latter half have it trudge awkwardly towards its finish. This isn’t helped by the slightly unmemorable melody writing, which feels aimless to a degree.
This aimlessness continues onto the pre-encore finisher, ‘Oh Brother’, which clumsily shifts between moody guitar playing and raucous distortion. The intention is the kind of raucous climax many post-rock bands shoot for at a track’s conclusion, but the song itself feels too flat and underwritten to warrant the kind of catharsis the band attempt to conjure.
SOAK casually bobs her head upon returning for her encore, before playing a cover of busker favorite ‘I Can’t Make You Love Me’ by Bonnie Raitt. It’s a song that’s earned a new lease of life over the past few years thanks to impressive renditions by ballad powerhouses Adele and Bon Iver. SOAK’s version is just as evocative as her peers, capturing all of the tenderness and sincerity the lyrics raise. Despite her powerful performance, the cover sadly makes the flat writing present on some of her original songs even more apparent.
Despite the spotty nature of her live show, SOAK is an artist that has found her own sound and voice early on in her career. This promising start makes her an artist to seek out while she’s still playing the intimate venues her songs deserve, before she’s potentially filling stadiums down the line.