Dan Reeves has had his hands full since his 2012 self-titled release under the moniker of Soft Walls. The Brighton-based performer plays in the band Cold Pumas and runs the label Faux Discx, all the while preparing Soft Walls’ No Time. Recorded on a borrowed 8-track, his debut introduced us to his unique ability to marry psychedelic looseness with forward rhythm, and No Time marks a point of growth and perspective.
The album comprises ten songs, each laced together and into an overarching thesis about our relationship to time; namely, a consensus that there’s simply too little of it and not enough clarity on how best to use it. Anyone who has ever felt the tightening of time under the pressure to “enjoy” youth as if every clock was a barometer of its slipping away will find something to hold onto in the album’s lyrical and rhythmic command. The album spans just over 35 minutes and is as sensory as it is rationally thought-provoking, setting the example of an efficient, if frustrated, use of time. It is most dream-like when listened to in full, and it’s this review’s intention to act as a sort of guided tour.
On opener “Won’t Remember My Name”, chimes and fuzzy guitars establish a steady shoegaze thump onto which he places a monotone, barely decipherable chant. Disparate melodies collage together and an old-soul organ reminds us that we’ve come a long way from the druggy psyched out ’60s, but haven’t forgotten altogether. The feeling of heat swelling and ground particles pooling then lead into the dissonant grunge intro of “The Big Nod”. His vocals, now a metallic and pained sing-speak, almost channel Iceage, if the Danish punk band were recorded in underwater slow-motion. Reeves, on this track and others, seems to have a studied case of being unable to catch up to his own breath.
“Never Come Back Again” gives us a neurotic drum and bass pattern that welcomes Manchester post-punk comparisons, in its primitive appearance of dragging on for a few seconds longer than, say, it would in a pop song, which, to be fair, this might just be beneath Reeves’ smothered falsetto. Lyric “I wish this feeling would never come back again” fits well into the song structure, which sounds like it’s trying to purge something with a quickness, where the tempo doesn’t let up for anything.
Then, the brief ambient drone of “Early in the Day” washes the nerves away, before title track “No Time”—perhaps the album’s most avant-leaning access point—picks up where the first three songs left off. Somewhere in the layers, the vague presence of the Hare-Krishna-or-somesuch chant lingers like day-old perfume on an unwashed wrist. Reeves’ shrill howl cuts in at the very end; perhaps one last dose of weird before “All The Same” takes hold with a beat-keeping guitar strum under whirling synths. On this album, it’s a true pleasure where rock and roll flickers in, like the dominant guitar solo toward the end of the song.
“Slumbering” hovers in electronic outer space, combining distorted machine hiss and a pulsating frequency noise, as if we’re supposed to be listening for something extraterrestrial. “Foot of the Stairs” follows through on the mystery with spooky agitation, and again, on cue, a frenzy of psychedelic ideas, which amount to an ostensible jam session at the song’s conclusion. At this collision stage, judging by the sound of his unruly vocals, Reeves might just me going off the rails.
By the time we reach “Guided Through”, the roller coaster of chaos and calm has just about exhausted its sonic outlets, and the track feels either too repetitive or too numbing to engage with. Psych components that, in the beginning, served as refreshing touchstones, like chant and tambourine, come off more cloying as the album wraps up. But that isn’t to discount its accomplishment; it’s presumably difficult to write ten unique songs around one idea, without leaving a somewhat small scope of sounds. More importantly, the album’s repetitiveness only supports its message.
Final track, “Transient View”, is purely instrumental, reveling in drum machine simplicity under happy synth infill and our last brush with the recurring gentle psych guitar. It’s an appropriate comedown for the senses, which have been pulled between trance states both pleasant and panicked. It’s a strange adventure in something no one really has a handle on, and Reeves shows that he’s willing to ask unsettling existential questions . Perhaps his next effort will provide some answers.