Dan Bodan Soft

[DFA; 2014]

Styles: R&B
Others: Autre Ne Veut, Majical Cloudz, Baths

If last year was the year that R&B exploded into a field of new experimentation, populated largely if not exclusively by male and non-black artists and producers, this year is the year we tried to give the new R&B a million awful names competing with “IDM” for most embarrassing and artist-disavowed subgenre tag ever. “Neu-R&B,” “PBR&B,” “emo&b.” At first, I wasn’t feeling it, but after thinking more deeply about albums like Impersonator with its operatic seriousness and “What Is This Heart?” with its absurdly obscure metaphysical lyrics and casual appropriation, I’ve decided that goofy music needs a goofy name. Sometimes, Dan Bodan’s Soft dips into weird, HTDW-tier, sexually uncomfortable territory, like when he croons about “oiling” a physically awkward love interest “from inside” on “Rusty.” If the confidence of Bodan’s lounge singer style says anything, it’s that he’s not interested in running from the corniness we’re all learning to look for.

On that note, I love his relaxed take on jazz standard “For Heaven’s Sake (Let’s Fall In Love)” (here amended with a “<3”), and I think it serves as a springboard for thinking of Soft as a stylistic departure. In Black Metal-ese, Bodan articulates black music through the lens of “dead white tropes” and electronic abstraction, weaving a compelling composition out of field recordings, synthetic guitar, and his own commanding voice. “For Heaven’s Sake” is responsibly the only nostalgic moment on what is otherwise a futuristic sonic outing, weaving together productions from the likes of Physical Therapy and 18+ in service of a tense romantic odyssey, indebted to but not dependent on the R&B lineage proper and other retired forms of black and white music alike.

What Bodan really seems interested in, though, is the ambiguity and “softness” of the second-person perspective assumed by love songs. Two standout tracks, “Anonymous” and “Soft As Rain,” respectively concern the play between visibility and invisibility and the reciprocal cushioning and contained peril implied by a romantic relationship. Bodan repeats the titular word in different contexts and in the lyrics of different songs, participating in the ritual repetition of Americana, of Joni Mitchell, of Neil Young. One vague word conveys meanings as diverse as the tone with which the ambiguous “you” conducts “your” behaviors, and the ways in which “you” leave your mark on the speaker and the way in which violence is exerted in love. “Soft” appears to be the single thematic thread connecting these varied and rigidly bookended tracks, but in reality, it’s just a displaced signifier for “you.” Soft is hushed, in such a way that it might be called unrealized if only it were to explicitly aspire to more. With his inoffensive voice and inoffensive beats (surprisingly so, considering their producers), Bodan does, if only for a brief time, achieve something exciting and intimate. Call it whatever stupid name you want; for Bodan, it’s soft all the way down.

Links: Dan Bodan - DFA

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