From Bubblegum to Sky spawns from the vision of Mario Hernandez, a pop prodigy drawing influences from his time spent in Japan and classic bands like The Beatles. His third and most recent release since 2004’s Nothing Sadder Than Lonely Queen, A Soft Kill continues From Bubblegum to Sky’s journey into the depths of lower-fi pop with 11 concise songs on an album totaling only 30 minutes in length. Classic warmth is achieved through the use of reel-to-reel analog tape, and the result is a modern flurry of pop numbers with a retro sound that’s easily digestible.
Hernandez’s focused approach on achieving vocal polyphony peaks with “The Flash,” where even his “bup-bahs” are precisely harmonized. He contrasts smooth vocals with a series of manic, unrelenting guitar riffs. In fact, contrast seems profoundly important on A Soft Kill, as Hernandez also utilizes poppy-sounding lyrics secretly hiding somber layers of depth.
A lack of dynamics results from breathy vocals falling slightly behind the music. It’s sedate in a dark, drug-induced way, and works for the most part. However, Hernandez’s nasal vocal delivery occasionally distracts on more upbeat tracks like “I Always Fall Apart,” where a little more presence and energy might prove beneficial.
The album closes strongly with “Downtown or Up?” a song featuring a refreshing amount of variation. Distorted guitars cut out in the chorus as the song opens up, ably matching the feel of Hernandez’s lyrics: “When all the neon lights turn blue / That’s when I find myself in you.” The song ends with a very successful “Hey Jude”-esque group singalong that one can only imagine would be a hit during his live show.
Aside from a digital download, A Soft Kill will only find life in vinyl LP format. But that just keeps in line with the juxtaposing nature of From Bubblegum to Sky — it’s simply complicated. And while most artists thriving on simplicity might fall into the trap of pretentiousness, Hernandez more than provides in the field of substance. (Eenie Meenie Records)
-Keane Li (more…)