Coming up with something new, something never heard before, is definitely not an easy task.
After decades and decades of pop music, made up of endless contaminations and samples, everything within and outside the charts sounds the same. This is not to say artists do not release good works, but originality is becoming more and more of a chimera. In such an environment, NYC-based duo SOFI TUKKER has been able to shake things up, proposing a fresh sound that is quickly and exponentially gaining consensus and praise. And understanding the secret of their success is not a hard job.
Sophie Hawley-Weld and Tucker Halpern, better known as SOFI TUKKER – which is, quite unimaginatively, a wicked version of their names – met just three years ago at Brown University. Sophie spent her teenage years travelling throughout the world (born in Germany, spent some time in Canada, secondary school in Italy), while Tucker lived his whole life in Boston. These two quite opposite backgrounds are reflected in their experiences and interests: where Sophie started cultivating a passion for Brazilian and South American culture and art from a young age, Tucker quickly found himself partying and DJing as soon as he moved away from home. It is probably thanks to this surprising and unexpected melting pot of influences that the duo, who released their first track only a year ago, has managed to quickly conquer both the press and the general public, netting almost 9 million Spotify streams since their debut.
Now Sophie and Tucker are ready to release their first EP Soft Animals, and it is time to find out if the strange duo will be able to live up the huge hype surrounding them.
“Drinkee” rightfully serves as the opening track. The single, their first-ever released, apart from being an uber-smash currently storming the charts in Italy, Spain and South America, perfectly exemplifies the band’s innovative sound, and set the overall pace of the EP. Sung in Portuguese, “Drinkee” takes the listener to an alternative universe made up of tropical suggestions, mixing bluesy guitar arpeggios with space-y synths and Brazilian-flavoured bongos. It’s not by chance that the lyrics to the song are inspired by poet Chacal, who first brought the Beat movement to South America and experimented with language more than anyone else in the last century. The journey has just begun.
Claustrophobia never felt so good as with “Awoo”. The second track moves over a trippy, almost jazz, piano progression that goes on and on for 3 minutes, accompanied by a blaze of maracas, distorted vocals and – once again, and not for the last time – bongos. Hawley-Weld’s voice is at the same time seductive and almost monotone, contributing to create what it might be a lullaby for Spanish-speaking meth addicts. Pure magic.
“Matadora” cements the band’s experimental taste: a charango arpeggio and a constant clapping introduces what may sound as a 2016 version of the never-forgotten “Bongo Bong”. Exactly like Manu Chao’s track, Sophie’s singing sounds like a speech, looping a Portuguese haiku which slowly melts into the track, while Tucker stratifies the production with Major Lazer-y trumpet synths.
“Hey Lion” sounds like peace after a storm. As a matter of fact, the second single off the EP is probably the least experimental track of the lot: the track sounds like a Swedish electropop band trying to have fun with jungle beats, adding a saucy guitar hook and groovy synths. Definitely not a highlight, but SOFI TUKKER fail to disappoint even at their lowest peak.
“Moon Tattoo” abruptly changes the overall pace, slowing down the tempo and showing a more nuanced face of the duo. The production is sparse and atmospheric, the bongos sound as if they were played underwater, the guitar riffs appear and disappear like the whole song was nothing more than an LSD-induced dream. Sophie’s voice is now almost a whisper leading you to a cloudy world where everything is possible as long as you close your eyes. Captivating to say the least.
“Déjà Vu Affair” closes the EP, and exactly like a déjà vu, the track discloses elements and reminisces of the whole body of work as it progresses. The voice is sexy and whispery like the previous song, while the pulsating beat draws it premises from “Hey Lion”. The sultry Highlife-life guitar riff reminds of “Matadora” and the lead single, and closes the track, leaving the listener eagerly waiting for the next, glorious instalment.
It’s easy to fall into the “next big thing” trap as soon as an incredible first single like “Drinkee” is released: too often we witnessed the downfall of bands who gave their all with stellar debuts, but this is not the case with SOFI TUKKER. Every brick sounds perfectly placed in a cornucopia of contaminations and influences, none of the tracks proposed lacks in individuality, while at the same time preserving an overall and quite unique sound.
It would be difficult to geographically collocate the duo, and this is probably their business card to stardom: Brazil, Sweden, USA, Italy and Britain all sound melted into a curious mix that has the potential to stick with an over-globalised society like the one we’re living in. If this EP is any indication of what is set in store for us, SOFI TUKKER are going to be the next big thing of 2017. This time with no second guessing or retreats.
More from Raffaele Buono, the senior music editor who hasn’t yet fallen for the ‘next big thing’ trap @_RaffaB