SOFT HEARTED SCIENTISTS have been around in one shape or another since 2001, with Cardiff as their base of operations and these days sporting four members, following an initial phase of existence as a duo with special guests contributing. The band have four studio productions to their name so far, with a fifth set for release later in 2013. And while their small but dedicated fanbase awaits the next chapter of the musical exploits of this Cardiff foursome, Fruits de Mer Records have decided to release a compilation album featuring material from all parts of their career. To be released as a double vinyl production, complete with a bonus 7'' single, sporting the slightly curious title "Whatever Happened to the Soft Hearted Scientists".
It doesn't take too long before this compilation leaves me somewhat bewildered, as this is a rather unfamiliar musical ground for me. Once a metalhead that later developed a taste for progressive and sophisticated music, this is a band and an album that represents a very different sound to what I'm used to, and presumably I'll be missing vital points about origins, influences and similar sounding artists both left, right and centre on this one. Most likely bringing some rather odd associations to the table to boot. Be that as it may be, hopefully someone may still find some use to these written words.
My main impression about this act is that their material has a naive, innocent sound. The moods and atmospheres from a world less dark, threatening and informed than today. Music from the age where people could still believe in people. Also known as the 1960's. And there's a distinct smell of flowers in the air when playing this music, and possibly some fragrances of a more dubious origin too. By now I should add that these are impressions harvested at the start of their various compositions, but as they develop these creations does reveal a band that isn't quite as one dimensional.
The songs start out coming across as singer/songwriter material more often than not though, with light toned acoustic guitars and calm lead vocals the main and dominating elements. But as the initial phase ends, or more often as the song develops, quite a few additional features are added in. Psychedelic tinged, subtle synthesizer and keyboard textures, echoing guitar licks, brooding downmixed organ and what I suspect is some variety or other of Mellotron find their place, most often utilized sparingly and to good effect but occasionally used as parts of a richer, layered arrangement that may even be described as majestic from time to time. But not in a dramatic manner. Soft Hearted Scientists do live up to their choice of moniker, their pieces generally maintain a calm and controlled spirit even when the arrangements are fairly sophisticated. Some instances of vocals with a slight touch of The Beatles about them appear from time to time, and a few tracks have a slightly darker edge and whimsical nature to them that gives me associations to artists often referred to as Canterbury when describing their style. Soft Hearted Scientists is a band I'd describe as one with a foundation closer to the singer/songwriter and folk music traditions though, and a band that showcase an eager interest in applying psychedelic and odd sounds to their material. A few more purebred psychedelic pieces does appear too, and that a song titled At Night the Quarry Glows Like a Mothership is among them shouldn't surprise anyone.
This is a good and fascinating album, of that there isn't any doubt. Those who tend to enjoy psychedelic music of the kind that generally doesn't employ dramatic effects and who tend stay calm and controlled should be a likely crowd for this production, fans of psychedelic folk music too. And if you can check both these points and have an additional affection for the likes of The Beatles, then I suspect that you and Soft Hearted Scientists is a match made in heaven somewhere. Not the best description or recommendation this album will harvest by far I suspect, but the best this old metal head is able to come up with for this particular production.
My rating: 88/100
A1. Whatever Happened to You
A2. Mount Palomar
A4. Brother Sister
A5. The Yongy Bongy Bo
B1. At Night the Quarry Glows Like a Mothership
B2. The A470 Song
B4. Rockford's Return
C2. The Caterpillar Song
C3. The Strangest Scene
C4. The Garden Song
C5. The Midnight Dance of the Mexican Vampire
D1. Road to Rhayader
D2. The Trees Don't Seem to Know That It's September
D3. Halloween People
D4. Night of the Hunter
D5. Whatever Happened to You/The Sleepers in the Hill
The Take Time to Wander Sessions:
E1. Comet's Tail
E2. Newest Things
F2. Light Years to Nothing