I’ve never been to America. My entire perception of the USA has been pieced together in my mind through decades of excessive US cultural consumption, from Sesame Street through to Mullholland Drive via White Zombie and Bruce Springsteen, it’s been influenced by a wide variety of sources as I’ve grown up. Indeed the vast majority of my favourite movies, bands, comedies, stand-up comedics, novels, comics etc etc came from there – a hefty chunk of what’s important to me and what has shaped my views, my mannerisms, in many ways my very being, came from America. And yet I’ve never visited it. There’s an America that exists in my head that probably bears little relation to any part of any state. And in my own private America bands like Posse play in just about every college bar and on every college radio station every night of the week. They’re like some faintly alternative archetype to me; as American as a Mount Rushmore moulded out of Apple pie.
I’m willing to accept that’s probably not the case – maybe it was for a brief time back in the 90s, during alternative rock’s MTV heyday, but I’m pretty sure it isn’t now. But it is as far as my imagination is concerned. Posse ply their trade in that college rock archetype; a sort of lazy, guitar noodling indie rock vaguely reminiscent of Pavement and Built to Spill, Yo La Tengo and Dinosaur Jr to pluck a few names out of the air, as well as oh so many others that never quite reached the name recognition that those guys did. I’m not sure whether Posse ever will either, but I sense they don’t really expect to – they described their sound once as “27 years of disappointment and a delay pedal.” Achieving cannonisation in the hallowed halls of vaguely-indie vaguely-alternative rock might queer that narrative somewhat.
Soft Opening is pretty laid back throughout, but Posse don’t sound all that relaxed, instead coming across like slackers who realise they’ve got shit to do and are pretty bummed out about it. I’ve always thought J Mascis sounds like he’s recorded every song of his career the moment he’s rolled out of bed, whereas Posse’s co-frontperson Paul Wittmann-Todd sounds like I imagine he would if he’d hit record at about noon after a few coffees and a shower instead. He carries a similar general sense malaise as Mascis in his voice – the words seep out of him like a half-hearted shrug, a resigned sigh (Cassandra B actually finishes with a weary “…anyway”). Which contrasts subtly with Posse’s other co-frontperson, Sacha Maxim. Whilst she has a similar lackadaisical style and covers similar lyrical themes as Wittman Todd her tales of romantic turmoil and vague, unnameable anxiety are sung in a more barbed manner. Both seem to veil a simmering frustration with their lot but hers feels a little closer to the surface, occasionally rising up to a dismissive sneer like on Talk – if their main theme is disappointment then she seems a little less happy to make peace with it than he does. And so they jar a little uneasily as they swap songs for the bulk of the record – Whittmann Todd takes over for the last 3 tracks, which is an odd choice as the vocal phrasing on final track In my Zone sounds more like the more like a Maxim song that happens to be sung by him. Only on a few of the tracks do they appear together, and when they do they just kinda sing past each other rather than harmonise.
Musically speaking Soft Opening is fairly standard fare – simple bar chord strumming and melodic guitar noodling, drifting along at a content mid-pace. There aren’t many surprises to be had – the Maxim led songs do change the mood by being that little bit more twitchy and passive-aggressive, like the paranoid waltz of Talk, which is punctuated by the only distorted solo on the record, cutting through the tension brilliantly at the songs close. But mostly it’s a record that is perhaps a little too easy to describe as nice – the guitar melody on Afraid is a positively lovely little earworm, the bass driven plod of Jon entirely amiable. It’s a faintly sad record, but for all the restlessness that seems to lurk beneath the surface it never quite breaks – they make self-deprecating jibes that barely contain that masked sense of disappointment but it all gets snuffed out in the ennui. And the result is ultimately just some kinda nice and sorta fun indie rock.
Which is perfectly fine – they wear it well. Maybe they’ll develop more of a bite somewhere down the line but for now they seemed to be making peace with it all and getting lost in some laid back guitar workouts. It adds up to an album that may not live all that long in the memory but as it closes with Maxim singing, “don’t fuck it up/try to let it happen” over and over it occurs to me that the overall lasting feeling of Soft Opening is similar to the way a summers day feels to the depressive – the anxiety, the terrors, the self-loathing are still there, festering beneath the surface, but then the sun warms your face and the drink in your hand feels nice and cool and the burnt scent of BBQ smoke and faint laughter are carried to you along a weak breeze and for a moment, despite it all, everything feels just fine.