Sodastream - Little by Little

by Larry Schiffman Rating:9 Release Date:2017-03-03

There is something very special, very visceral, about recording with acoustic instruments.. Electrification may increase tonality and dynamics of music; but has not really improved on emotional impact. You need listen no further than the opening notes of “Colouring Iris” by Sodastream on their new album “Little by Little” where you will be greeted by a throbbing double bass followed by sparkling guitar. A gorgeous cello interlude completes the mood. This terrific, beautiful song immediately grabbed my attention and secured it with its successful homage to the music of Nick Drake that he would have been proud to include in his limited catalogue.

The group consists of Karl Smith on lead vocals and acoustic guitar and Pete Cohen on double bass, bass guitar, piano and backing vocals. Sodastream formed in 1996 in Perth Australia only to disband in 2007 and reunite in 2013. I guess their categorization as “folk music artists” is reasonable; but really doesn't do them justice because they are more than willing to allow their music to experiment with electrification and distortion.

One of the appeals of good folk music, for me, is that because it derives from tradition it has a certain familiarity that makes it sound comfortable and recognizable from a first listen. Overdone, this can be trite and tedious but listen to “Three Sins” and you will almost immediately find yourself humming the arresting melody line.

By song four on the album, “Letting Go”, one immediately realizes there's more here than just an acoustic duo doubling up on expected instruments and instrumentation. The song opens with a brass chorus that serves as a supportive background for the melody. The song “Moving” adds a string section that alternates, to my surprise effectively, with harmonica. Is that a marimba I hear on “On the Stage” and a theremin opening “Saturday's Ash”? Sounds great, whatever they are. Backing vocals throughout the album are just that. They are certainly audible, but intentionally subdued. Karl Smith's lead is thin and limited, but endearing

“Tyre Iron” introduces something new to me: acoustic cello pyschedelia. It takes a full two and a half minutes before the acoustic guitar and cello cease trading licks and the song settles into a very pleasing melodic, driving groove. Good stuff.

As you might hope, the lyrics are intelligent and the production excellent. I would like to believe that these guys, who in their “early days” received national radio exposure and contracts with a number of independent record labels around the world, have reunited because they have a lot more to say musically. They have been described by contrasting critics as producing "dreary but mature folk-pop anthems" with "nothing uplifting or outgoing, but Sodastream's acoustic arrangements are pleasantly relaxing"; and "captivating vocals ... delicate, hushed and high pitched. Shy, sad and lonely". While Cohen provided a "calming atmosphere with spine-chilling strums from his double bass and haunting backing vocals". I think neither review does Sodastream justice. They are serious not dreary. Their songs may not plaster a listener to the walls, but they captivate and grow better with each listen. They deserve attention.

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