Sporting bleached blonde hair, the earrings of Billy Idol and a leather jacket whilst having a body that is cut out carelessly like a scrapbook and placed over the idiosyncratic palm trees of LA, this album cover illustrates the new musical direction of Bordeaux’s SoKo with informative clarification. It’s also a drastically surprising costume change for an artist previously associated with minimalism but one that fascinatingly uncovers a different and less insecure side to her personality, her artistic inspirations, her new found home and her growth as a person and musician.
First materializing in 2007 with her EP Not Sokute, SoKo was an anti-thesis to overly produced, polished and egotistical recording artists. Her music was instrumentally efficient, intimate and sung with brutal honesty. Uncensored swearing added realistic anger to songs such as the European sleeper hit “I’ll Kill Her” but it was delivered through a talk-singing flavoured with a French accent that made it charming and distinctive.
Although her voice had a sad and fragile personality and a fractured style that made it human, unique and recognizable, her unconventional voice sometimes lacked a consistent tone, sounded like she had a sore throat and didn’t display classically trained control, which may have resulted in a lack of anglophone interest. She wasn’t ready then musically or lyrically to take the next step into full length album exposure and therefore after a 5-year hiatus and a consumption into her side project as an actress, she finally released her debut LP I Thought Was An Alien in 2012.
The album was welcomed by fans for continuing the second-person intimacy that makes listeners feel like SoKo is speaking directly to them in their headphones. It also kept aspects of D-I-Y production, folk-storytelling and humble vulnerability. Her voice also remained husky and whispery like compatriot Charlotte Gainsbourg. Even though it still contained the weepy vocal fragments on “Treat Your Woman Right“, the majority of the time, her voice was smoothed out to create a more consistent melody and backed by vocal harmonies. The instrumentation was still sweet and efficient with acoustic guitars remaining an important asset to her sound but relevant instruments: electric organ, ukulele, mellotron, banjo and violins helped express her emotions more beautifully and gave it a tropical undertone, especially when it was complimented by her Emiliana Torrini-esque vocals.
Her second album My Dreams Dictate My Reality willingly reflects a more hopeful, less lonesome and self-assured chapter in her life, in which she has moved to Los Angeles, soaked up American lifestyle and has started feeling comfortable, secure and confident with her own demons, whilst becoming friends with the local musicians in the process. One of the natives is psychedelic-pop multi-instrumentalist Ariel Pink who has become her permanent tour guide and sings along side her on duets on the odd romance of “Monster Love” and the genre-switching “Lovetrap“.
Although the majority of the album adopts a nostalgic mixture of gothic post-punk (“Ocean of Tears“), grunge (“I Come in Peace“), new wave (specifically Frankie Goes To Hollywood on “Visions“) and 90’s alternative rock (“Who Wears The Pants“) that fits her new identity, “Monster Love” fits more in the bracket of shoegaze with the consistent-tempo vocals blending in with the dark guitar steadiness.
SoKo’s chemistry with Ariel Pink is also well matched on the haphazard Blood Orange-flavoured new romantic of “Lovetrap”, but this time the duet is used as a major part of the entertainment, most noticeable in the mid-song bridge where Pink and SoKo flirt with each other imagining they are Serge Gainsbourg and Brigitte Bardot. Furthermore, SoKo also talks in the introduction to “Visions”, providing wise words in a Madonna-Erotica-style: “Forgive the ones you hate the most“, proving that her intriguing insights still exist.
Despite Los Angeles being a major part of the recording process, The Cure is the biggest source of inspiration on the album. A self-confessed fan of Robert Smith and occasionally calling herself a “white goth”, SoKo managed to get Ross Robinson (the producer of 2004’s The Cure) to help realize her dreams. The spirit of the band runs throughout the veins of the album.
A Primal-Scream “Loaded”-esque sample of a woman exclaiming: “You guys are so 80s, you are so warm” introduces “Temporary Mood Swings“, the best example of The Cure’s typical drum machines, light jangly guitar, spacious atmosphere and jolly compositions. Its pace is also vaguely reminiscent of the pace of The Sugarcubes’ “Motorcrash”. Although SoKo’s lyrics seem to tease at a deeper meaning that seeks transition approval from her fans and a still evident hint of insecurity: “I want to be good, do you like me better?“.
Things are a little rougher on the alternative rock of the dark epic “Peter Pan Syndrome” and “Who Wears The Pants?“, the latter bares rhythm similarities to the B52’s “Rock Lobster” and “Hot Night Crash” by Sahara Hotnights. It is the best example of the greatest change in SoKo’s vocal delivery and attitude. Almost unrecognisable from her antecdent French-accented and low-key tone, SoKo’s voice has evolved into a tough, rebellious, confident and powerful beast, although she has always had a hint of a tomboyish demeanour.
Fans still adjusting to the ambitious style change and who miss the confessional side to her lyrics will appreciate the inclusion of tearjerker “Keaton’s Song“, an heartbreak rhapsody that is composed like a track from her last album I Thought I Was An Alien and acts as a response to another break-up song by her former boyfriend Keaton Henson. It contains fantastically endearing lyrics such as “I will kill the worst of me to be the best for you“.
All of this retro fandom is made further convincing by an array of home-made videos recorded with wonderfully relevant low quality and containing sometimes hedonistic and sometimes confrontational scenes, picking up on a successful technique used recently by psychedelic rockers Pond. The enterprising and diverse new album My Dreams Dictate My Reality is a wise example of how an artist can grow into different territories of exploration whilst maintaining the element of themselves that makes fans want to sustain a personal connection. Let’s hope she never goes on a hiatus again. SoKo’s My Dreams Dictate My Reality is out now on Babycat Records/Because Music, purchase it here.