Sotto Voce takes me back thirty years, even longer, to a time where a rock band could create a unique identity for themselves with just bass, drums and a couple of guitars–not to mention an intriguing singer. Sotto Voce’s Safety stands apart from so much of today’s indie rock scene simply because the music itself doesn’t prompt me to make comparisons to a host of other bands, both old and new. The thirteen tracks here occupy a space defined by multiple layers of guitars, jagged and soothing at the same time, and smart lyrics that tackle everything from The Who’s A Quick One (re-imagined as “A Quick One, While She’s in a Bad Way”) to actress Judy Greer, immortalized in an eponymous and tightly performed little ditty. This is a band full of wit, imagination and originality. There’s only one problem. Sotto Voce isn’t really a band.
That’s right, Sotto Voce Safety is the work of one person, a guy from Pittsburgh named Ryan Gabos. He sings, he plays guitars and basses, drums, and he programs the drums. He’s not the first to attempt the one-man band aesthetic, but he does it in such a convincing way that you’ll be convinced you’re listening to a conventional band comprised of three or four individuals who are both in tune with each other’s ideas and determined to stand apart as separate artists. Gabos, in other words, is really good at this, which makes sense because this is his ninth release.
Safety is part of a new sub-genre, one I haven’t explored until now–“bedroom” pop. I kind of see the gist of the movement, its need to use words such as fuzzy to explain what’s going on. This term may imply a personal approach, an idea that I like, or it might simply refer to music to listen to while still in bed, gazing at the ceiling and wondering what kind of day it’s going to be. I can see other performers, specifically Bon Iver, falling into this grouping, but I’m not the biggest Bon Iver fan because it’s just too gauzy. Sotto Voce is more direct, less consumed with going out on a limb while still maintaining that distinct identity.
Circling back, Sotto Voce’s Safety reminds me of the music I loved in college, everything from R.E.M. to XTC to The Jam, because it takes the simplest of recipes and turns it into a dish that’s completely different every time you make it. One of the toughest parts about indie rock is balancing a unique vision for each song while still maintaining a strong identity throughout–you want people to hear your songs on the radio and immediately know it’s you. I haven’t heard Gabos’ other eight releases to chart his arc of progression over the years, but now I’m intrigued enough to do it.
(Images courtesy XO Publicity.)