Don’t come here for demon voices and dirty jokes: this is a place to heal and to dream.
Drew Daniel’s new Soft Pink Truth album is an island of calm in the middle of a mischievous discography. Don’t come here for demon voices and dirty jokes: this is a place to heal and to dream.
This is not a radical-sounding album, but it’s a radical shift for Daniel, the equivalent of the Residents putting away their eyeball masks and making something like Music for Airports. It could be captioned “Drew Daniel Presents”; he takes more of a backseat role than usual, entrusting his musical and romantic partner M.C. Schmidt to write the piano parts and a three-piece choir with formidable resumés—Angel Deradoorian, Jana Hunter and Colin Self—to sing.
Shall We Go On Sinning So That Grace May Increase? is sort of a protest album, one not rooted in reactive anger but the power of community. “This is how good life can be,” it seems to say, as the backing singers buzz joyfully in unison. This concept might seem dated in the time of quarantine, but the way Daniel spaces the singers—some to the right, some to the left, some with better connections than others—gives the music the physical dimensions of a Zoom chat.
This is a supremely well-mixed album, emphasizing the midrange to bring out the long, legato tones that dominate: pianos, vibraphones, bells, cymbals. The drums have a spongy quality that aligns this music with the earthier end of microhouse: artists like Thomas Fehlmann, James Holden or Daniel’s old chum Matthew Herbert. Sounds appear once and disappear forever: a splash of organ on “We,” faint filtered wah-wah contractions on “Grace.”
The album is loosely structured into two pieces. The first is tentative and mysterious, curtained with bells, egging us on into the bowels of the record. The second is a stunner, following a piano figure as it loops and mutates until it finally explodes into one of those moments so powerful they should be off-limits in music: a climax that hits the heart in the same sensitive spot as when a Beach Boys song crests into harmonies.
It’s surprising not least because of how subdued Grace is for so much of its runtime. This is mostly a neutral album, only occasionally curling into ugliness—usually when one-man horn section Andrew Bernstein picks up an instrument.
It’s easy to simply drift along on this album, but Grace is deeper than chill music. A sadness courses throughout. The voices throb with melancholy, trembling as if on the edge of tears, and Schmidt’s piano conjures the same notes as William Basinski’s or DJ Sprinkles’, dusky and elegiac. Daniel may have summoned this music as a corrective to, or a prayer against, fascistic end-of-the-world madness. But a quote from Sprinkles comes to mind: “suffering is in here, with us.”
Like her Midtown 120 Blues, Grace asks us to consider the difference between healing and escapism. It’s a balance we all walk, not least those of us who belong to marginalized groups and must juggle staying happy and sane with understanding how and when the world is going to fuck us.