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Review: SOAK, 'Before We Forgot How To Dream'

Before We Forgot How To Dream
Courtesy of the artist
Before We Forgot How To Dream

The first words Bridie Monds-Watson sings on her debut album double as a tidy thesis statement: "A teenage heart is an unguided dart." The Irish singer-songwriter, who records under the name SOAK, made Before We Forgot How To Dream while she was still 18 — some of these songs date back to her early teens — so she knows whereof she speaks.

This is, to state the obvious, a coming-of-age album, as Monds-Watson chronicles youthful alienation ("Sea Creatures"), anxiety and shyness ("B a nobody"), and the anguish of her parents' divorce ("Blud") alongside more generalized ruminations on feeling ill-at-ease and at a crossroads. She sings and writes as if she's spent much of her life living inside her own head, and yet there's also an ambitious, idiosyncratic quality to Before We Forgot How To Dream that allows it to feel more sweeping in scope. At times, SOAK's origins feel more Icelandic than Irish, as Monds-Watson achieves Bjork-like otherworldliness even as her subject matter fixes on the anguish of the everyday.

SOAK's debut rarely amplifies Monds-Watson's sound beyond lugubrious seething, and even when it picks up the pace, as in "Garden," the feeling throughout is sort of calmly unsettled — or, in the case of "Shuvels," outright haunted. But don't let Monds-Watson's still, unassuming demeanor throw you off: These songs command attention by burrowing deep under the skin, where they can't be dug out so easily.

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Stephen Thompson is a writer, editor and reviewer for NPR Music, where he speaks into any microphone that will have him and appears as a frequent panelist on All Songs Considered. Since 2010, Thompson has been a fixture on the NPR roundtable podcast Pop Culture Happy Hour, which he created and developed with NPR correspondent Linda Holmes. In 2008, he and Bob Boilen created the NPR Music video series Tiny Desk Concerts, in which musicians perform at Boilen's desk. (To be more specific, Thompson had the idea, which took seconds, while Boilen created the series, which took years. Thompson will insist upon equal billing until the day he dies.)
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