Album Review: The Soft Pink Truth – Shall We Go On Sinning So That Grace May Increase?

[Thrill Jockey; 2020]

What do you do when you see the world around you crumbling to dust? Some fight in anger, some flee in despair, and some make life-affirming pieces of art or commentary that focus on the best aspects of humanity. The Soft Pink Truth have taken the third option and delivered Shall We Go On Sinning So That Grace May Increase?, an album of ethereal electronica, minimalism and deep house, as a response to the global rise of fascism and the election of Trump in the good ol’ US of A. We all respond differently to the horrors around us – the key thing is to respond.

Drew Daniel, better known for his work as one half of arch-experimental electro art duo Matmos, is The Soft Pink Truth. Essentially a house music project, Daniel’s work under this moniker has taken a few unexpected musical detours since its inception in 2003. Previous albums have included covers of hardcore, punk and black metal songs, as well as collaborations with Anohni and all-too-often-overlooked drone overlords Locrian.

Collaboration – a strength in unity – is a fundamental aspect of Shall We Go On Sinning So That Grace May Increase?, with vocal contributions from Jana Hunter, Colin Self and Angel Deradoorian, as well as input from saxophonist Andrew Bernstein, percussionist Sarah Hennies and Drew Daniel’s Matmos partner M.C. Schmidt. So refined is Daniel’s vision for the album, however, that the presence of the personal flexes of his guests are not in any way intrusive or discordant with the moments in which they co-exist. In fact, they are hardly noticeable as they serve the whole rather than acting as an unwelcome distraction.

The trio of vocalists often meld together, a swirl of phantasmagorical phrases ebbing and flowing in and out of time and space to elicit feelings of disquiet and rapture. The album opener “Shall” is heavily centred on the eerie vocal incantations as the voices intertwine and lose themselves in the mix, coming off like a spookier Lyra Pramuk. The track segues perfectly into “We” (by now you’re getting a sense of what each subsequent track is called, right?) which continues the slow pace and delicate sounds. Breathy vocals, pensive synth lines and droning crescendos fuse to create a dizzying effect before a four-four bass drum kicks in and adds a sense of purpose and direction to the track. Twinkling chimes and more percussion enter the fray and we are in that cognitive dance space that artists like Four Tet inhabit so well, at that border between the cerebral and the visceral. It’s a rush.

Elsewhere, Shall We Go On Sinning So That Grace May Increase? plays with sonic boundaries. “Go” is all piercing timbres and unnerving atmosphere, while “Sinning” is a piano heavy neo-classical cacophony, like Christian Wolff and Steve Reich trying to show who can avant harder. On this latter track, despite the seeming aimlessness of the instrumentation, there is a clear beat in the background that adds drive and focus to the track.

Eddies of sound cascade on “That”, like drunken musings that try to grapple with ideas far too complex for the intellect at the soberest of moments, such is the hazy feeling conjured up. There is a languid warmth here, helped by the repeating waves of sound and the drone refrains in the background, before the song comes into sharp focus on “Grace” which has a piano melody that lacks sophistication but resonates a sense of joyful optimism. A pulsing alarm noise blares out toward the end, alerting the listener to their own sense of submissive acquiescence to the soothing habitat of the track. It serves to remind us that although we can take comfort in the company of likeminded others, we need to be aware of what is happening around us. Stupor is respite and nothing more. 

The album’s denouement, “May Increase”, continues the swell of noise and piano whilst utilising a concealed propulsive beat that comes more to the front as the track progresses and acts almost like a euphoric call to arms. It’s a heady mix of purpose and obfuscation, a perfect aural analogy for the political landscapes that many of us now find ourselves in.

Shall We Go On Sinning So That Grace May Increase? is a wonderful record of majesty and enveloping textures that radiate a sense of collective positive energy. Daniel Drew has produced an album of exquisite delight; mature enough to know its place in the world yet filled with childlike awe at how things could be.