Softaware - Molt (Album Review)

Oklahoman Colin Nance makes trippy music, though not trippy in a hallucinogenic way, but more in the mind-bending hypnotic sense. His music is primarily driven by glossy synthetic instrumentation, methodic drums, and textured, low-in-the-mix vocals that deliver memorable hooks. His sophomore album under the moniker Softaware, Molt, is a vibrant collection of hyper-pop and driving alternative rock songs that, despite their manicured sheen, have quite an edge. The sprawling 14-song album takes some twists and turns, like the progressive upbeat funk of "Lost Ivy" and the soft piano balladry of the glitchy but clean "Bismuth", and feels full to the brim of ideas, from the shimmering intro of "New Lie" to frenzied high-stakes energy of closer "New Life", Molt brings together gelid electronic sounds, snappy drums, and vocals treated generously with reverb, to create a substantial album that runs for over an hour, at times sounding like the voguish psychedelia of Tame Impala, but mixed with the '80s synth-pop feel of The Human League.

"Curvatures" is a pristine piece of electronica, with punctilious snare sounds and dazed instrumentation mixing with dreamlike vocals that lull the listener as they spin their earworm melodies. Not exactly mainstream nor underground, Softaware makes music that wonderfully falls between the cracks of commercial viability and full-on artistic experimentation. The hard-hitting "Shapeshifter" is full of neon tones and '80s-inspired big drums. It's the type of music that would marry well with nostalgic television like Stranger Things; its throwback to accessible grooves and production with warmth and depth create atmospheric exercises that somehow have a visual impact. 

In places, Nance gives his proclivity for soulful adult contemporary free reign, like on the outrĂ© "Venus", which fuses a soaring chorus with nearly-intelligible theatrics and passages of mystical ambient, and the new wave beat of "Crystals", a song about using holistic healing to accept the self ("I need a little protection from myself"). These tracks beg the question of where Softaware fits and what they're trying to achieve. If taken at face value, the music is an innocuous yet pleasant helping of pop, electronic rock, and dance. Yet, on further investigation, there is real substance to Nance's songs; an earthy soul that seems to be yearning for 'real' instruments. That being said, many of the songs lift the mood and make it challenging not to move, like the frenzied arrangement of "Scenes" or the jilted playing and devil-may-attitude of "Soft Monster", which showcases Softaware's ability to enact subtle rhythmic transitions. At just over eight minutes, "Jewels On A Skull" is the longest track on the collection and slowly builds from pensive and moody songwriting to the mountainous heights electronic music is capable of and where Nance routinely goes. Nance passes the microphone to Nine Colour's Lauren Todd for "Lavender", a track to which Todd lends her powerful and characterized refrains and which gives the largeness of the production all the impact of the Cocteau Twins, albeit with a modern sheen. 

With a dream-pop sensibility, the songs on Molt are often reinforced with psychedelic notions and emotively sentimental sonic carving. While there's nothing revolutionary about this synth-rock amalgam, Nance puts enough passion, candid expression, and joy of making music into his work to ensure that even if it is a little out-of-date, it's never stale.