The hard truth is, no matter how many albums we review each year, there are always countless releases that end up getting overlooked. This is why this month we bring back our No album left out
series, in which the Pastry The music team have the chance to return to their favorite underrated records from 2021 and sing their praises.
Life doesn’t always grant people second acts, but the Irish Quartet Soda Blonde is living proof to the contrary. The four band members â Faye O’Rourke (vocals, guitar), Dylan Lynch (drums, percussion, vocals), Adam O’Regan (guitar, bass, piano, synthesizer, vocals) and Donagh Seaver O’Leary (bass, vocals) – already gained international recognition as alternative rock band Little Green Cars before going their separate ways in 2019. Their sound changed, swapping out folk influences for elegant pop, but not their talent. Soda Blonde’s debut album Banalities is a criminally underrated version of 2021.
Imbued with sadness, the record focuses on the band’s 20 or so members, a time that turns out to be more melancholy than people remember through their rose-colored glasses, especially as you walk through them in the middle of a pandemic. The first track, “Tiny Darkness”, draws the listener in with a melodic piano before the devastating lyrics and swollen strings can settle in. âIt takes everything to start over,â laments O’Rourke, a fitting introduction for a group that has found a new form. She’s not afraid to voice her insecurities, especially when it comes to the music industry: “They said I could be a star / But I got twisted / I’m like a failed TV host / I’m looking at old tapes. “
Throughout the self-produced record, the cohesion of the group and the control of musical tension make song after song shine. The first five pieces of Banalities make a particularly wonderful race. âThe Dark Trapezeâ captures the roller coaster of identity when you’re still not quite sure who you are; “I am a seed,” begins O’Rourke, later declaring himself grandiosly “a painting in a gallery from 1893”, then, more humbly, “a bottle of beer.” âIn the Heat of the Nightâ smolders with an arched guitar resembling a Fleetwood Mac. O’Rourke’s singular, stratospheric voice transforms seemingly simple lyrics like “You tell me to calm down” into a dramatic challenge as she relishes “the thrill of battle,” as she said in a release from hurry. Metallic and resounding percussions lean on “Swimming Through the Night” before a dreamy exit on the chorus, and “Terrible Hands” also benefit from the pulsating and well directed energy of the group.
The smallest details show how well the members of Soda Blonde work together as a unit. The arrangement of “Holy Roses” conveys the song’s message of how small slights can turn into overwhelming anger, the pre-chorus is sweet and measured until O’Rourke’s voice occupies the front of the stage on the chorus. O’Regan’s mixing skills elevate âSmall Talk,â which goes in on a muffled, distant synth that then echoes over the chorus. Soda Blonde is clearly a fan of symmetry; a clip of John Wayne talking about Ireland in “Terrible Hands”, a fun nod to Little Green Cars’ hit “The John Wayne”.
Not all songs quite hit the mark; “I Still Have Feelings For You” is stripped down and comparatively not as engaging as the other songs. Even in these moments, however, O’Rourke’s emotional delivery keeps the listener hooked with every word. Her voice often hovers above the instrumentals, angelic and untouchable, but the moments when she becomes impassive also land, as we hear on “Champion of My Time”.
The record comes full circle with the closest âChoicesâ. While not as sonically emotional as “Tiny Darkness,” O’Rourke effectively shows how she grew up, running her own agency and essentially having a “main character” moment. “Maybe I should let you make my choices,” she says at the start of the song, until she decides, “I’ll never let you make my choices.” After wading through âTiny Darknessâ (âEverything is so complicated / Maybe I should have graduated,â she admits at first), O’Rourke becomes both the hero and the author of his own story.
Whether you are in your twenties or looking back at them, you will likely find that Banalities is a nostalgic and nostalgic record. Here, we do not beat around the bush; Soda Blonde is an exciting alt-pop group that shouldn’t be overlooked.
Clare Martin is a cemetery enthusiast, hibernophile and contributing writer for Pastrymusic and comedy sections. She also exercises her love for reality TV at HelloGiggles sometimes. Go harass her on Twitter @theclaremartin.