We’ve been fans of Mike Pace long before The Child Actors were even a twinkle in their overly pushy parents’ eyes. Releasing the fourth and last album with his band Oxford Collapse, AKA one of the 00’s best indie rock bands, back in 2008, Pace went into hiding (maybe) before introducing to his new project back in 2015. The first release, Best Boy, was a full-length solo(ish) album we described as “a wistful celebration of what we had” which “presents some convincing reasons for why we feel the way we do.” Then, the following October, Pace put out ‘The Flood/Red Sauce Revisted’, a double A-side which hinted at the evolution of his sound into expansive, pop-centric areas. As we put it in our review:
“Music large and loud and lively, the kind of great so-serious-its-not (or maybe so non-serious-its-serious) energy that should be filmed for a live concert VHS-special”
Not content to stop there, the intervening months have seen Pace looking for ways to further flesh out his sound. The answer to moving forward it seemed, involving digging through the past, gathering the multitude of loose ends that constitute his favourite hits and weaving them into one long and complicated rope. As Pace describes: “For this latest batch of tunes, I figured since I’m probably never performing live again, why not indulge my myriad musical tastes by jumping headfirst into hard-to-replicate mini-epics?”
Get Soft is the resulting EP, a release of four songs which “travel from sleek mid 80’s inspired ‘sophisti-pop’ to smooth jazz fusion to mid-tempo psych groove-fests to melancholy synthesized mediations and back.” If this sounds quite the journey then that’s because it is, packing the sort of energy unique to pre-millennium TV, where everything is loud and bright and bursting with positivity.
Opener ‘Audits & Surveys’ is the perfect example, kicking things off like some glorious new dawn of old feelings. With lead vocals by Alana Amram, the track plays like an early 90s corporate lifestyle, maintaining a flashy optimism that seems both genuine and not, as though beneath this world of surfaces lies a fear or dissatisfaction that triggers not some deep existential demise but rather a deeper love of the shiny top layer. So while the lyrics are packed with self-deprecation and regret, the music itself never slips from its jubilant tone, and, because Pace never leans more to one direction, the track feels neither sugary nostalgia-trip nor some ironic attack. Instead, and this could be said of the entire Child Actors output to date, it’s more a symbiosis between the two, a celebration that’s as interested in the fun banal stuff as it is with the more human centre.
“I cut corners like a real close shave
Business casual is my middle name
I may look like a fool but I’m really a knave
four out of five would agree”
The title track plays like the theme to the best sunny cop farce never written, Adam Swierczynski and Ian Evans setting the tempo with bass and drums before the delightfully big guitar finale. ‘Caravan the Coast’ sees Lira Yin offer dreamy backing vocals, the track a glad-to-be-alive ode to cross country travelling, and a pop number for optimists more generally. There’s more than a hint of melodrama behind the buoyancy (the enthusiasm for utopian escape must suggest there’s something to run away from, after all), though again Pace refuses to let the elated tone slip, the track building into a frenetic crescendo which serves as a figurative ride into the sunset, even if a literal one is some way off.
“Soon enough we’ll be somewhere warm just beyond the chill
Caught outside in a summer storm
Like you hope we would
Long time leaving – tougher than most
But I’d love to have you join me
Join me as we caravan the coast”
The electronic instrumental ‘Eleuthera’ closes the release with a slice of digital tropicana, perhaps the clearest sign of melancholy on the record. However, with its swelling synths providing a near-spiritual promise of sustenance, it’s unclear whether it’s that late-evening vacation sort of emotion that’s somehow linked to transcendence, or a deeper sadness triggered by the confrontation of yet another image. Maybe the seascape here is being beamed from the fogged-up window of a travel agency’s concrete office, the warmth on your face merely the promise of sun, or just radiation from the screen’s cathode glow.
Get Soft is out now and you can get it on a ‘name your price’ basis via the Mike Pace Bandcamp page.
Cover photography by Greg Andreacchi