Maybe it’s a sign of old age, but the dulcet tones and classic, perfectly pitched pop-smithing of Fools, Soft Location’s sophomore effort, gives me a very now this is more like it kinda feeling. It’s been years since I’ve heard such an effortlessly listenable record, one that simultaneously soothes and energizes and never feels remotely cloying or superfluous. As with their debut (2007’s superb Diamonds and Gems), their comeback album is a perfectly restrained, infectious eight-song affair that begs repeat listens in one sitting.
Front-woman Kathy Leisen remains the group’s main asset. While her voice is not wholly unusual, her choices are more intuitively keen than most. The keyboard-driven music perfectly suits her playful but poised girl-groupish trills and coos, allowing her to seamlessly wisp her way into your heart. The mood may tend towards the plaintive, but it’s so perfectly arranged and hook-filled as to be the kind of moodiness that makes you feel alive with emotion rather than slumped over and dejected. In both title and presentation, “I Don’t Want to Be Friends” is a classic minimal acoustic guitar/vocal weeper. It would leave you in tears if the delicately viral refrain didn’t just make you want to hear it again and again.
The obvious single would be the title track, which exemplifies Leisen and company’s mastery of crushed-out, wistful pop bliss. That being said, it’s tempting to take exception with the song’s brevity. While I admire the group for their restraint, it seems “Fools” could’ve gone on a minute or two longer and not lost its essential piquancy. The warm, bass-driven drift of “Bangalore” exemplifies what I’m talking about, though it’s only three and a half minutes long. The two-minute instrumental outro gives the song a ripple effect, where “Fools” ends in a somewhat abbreviated fashion. I feel foolhardy in nitpicking with delicately magic moments like these, but it’s still too bad that there’s no six-minute meal like the previous album’s spellbinding highlight, “Let The Moon Get Into It.” “Huh” comes pretty damn close, though, with a final two minutes of trailing off and trilling that wraps the listener in drowsy abandon.
There’s no reason not to get this if you are a dream pop aficionado. Even if you’re not, this is a quietly essential, endearing listen for those who are a little worn out by over-ambitious, over-produced records that’re one or two songs strong. Fools, as heart-breakingly brief as it may be, is a winner from start to finish. It’s a testament to the potential greatness of the Kickstarter system that we got to hear this (before too long, it’ll be available as an LP), and it’d be a shame if it slipped any further under the radar than it already has.