Written by Archie Sagers
A heart-stopping collection of songs with a gentle melancholy that weaves between uplifting melodies and droning basslines, Soft Blood–-the new album from Lyn Rye–hangs between dissonance and harmony, toeing the line of altered emotive ballads. Crushing and delicate vocals hover above contemplative verses with diverse instrumentation. It contains Rye’s hard stories, told with the softness of their blood.
Soft Blood is by no means Rye’s first musical venture. Their debut album, 2019’s Roots of Rye, features a more lo-fi production and sparser instrumentation but still contains the songwriting and soul that is polished and displayed in full force on Soft Blood. Additionally, they’ve played bass for rising Chicago stars such as queer country singer Andrew Sa and beatmaker Naydja Bruton and are heavily involved in grassroots organisations in Chicago. They split their time between music and organisations such as Masjid Al-Rabia, the first queer mosque to open a permanent location in the Western hemisphere. Rye also helps at the Interfaith Community for Detained Immigrants and is passionately involved in support networks for LGBTQ+ migrants fleeing Muslim-majority countries.
“Partisan Gardens,” a powerful discordant waltz, was created as the theme music for the similarly-titled WFHB podcast that gives marginalised voices a place to speak. Distorted chugging guitar, mixed with the dark weaving bassline and dynamic drums, combine to create a forceful build into the chorus that drops back down for the brooding verses. The repetition of the increasingly erratic melody, reminiscent of one of John Murphy’s scores, creates a growing tension that suddenly drops into the delicate bass and finger-picked magical guitar crescendo of “Plum Wine in the Night.” Conceived as a lesbian parallel to Lavender Country’s “I Can’t Shake the Stranger Out of You,” Rye sings, “Round me to the nearest integer / I never ask for change,” presenting a soft reflection on the struggles of queer intimacy.
Throughout the album, Rye focuses on the mix’s low end. Their primary instrument is bass, which becomes more noticeable in songs like “Four Ways to Forgiveness,” where it takes a peculiar rhythmic and melodic role. Finger-picked bass chords craft an omnipresence that allows subtle variations to alter the feel. Towards the end, the energy explodes with increasingly compressed desperation added to the bass dancing below the harmonies. The opener, “Two Points Make a Line,” centres on the melancholic bassline accompanying the electric guitar. Cello smoothly glides into the track and underpins lyrics inspired by a photo of a volunteer tractor driver who braved floodwaters in the Midwest to deliver supplies to farmers, including Rye’s family.
Rye’s difficult times are the inspiration for much of the lyricism. Be it the twisted romantic narrative of “Easy” or the sombre love story hidden beneath the surface of “Plum Wine in the Night,” the album tends to a soft, poetic voice, growing through the album like the roots digging into “Partisan Gardens.” Towards the end, they reflect on social issues faced in Chicago. On “Blueshift,” an elegiac anthem against the police in Chicago, they sing, “all collide, all blue” (A-C-A-B). “House of the Empty Chair” reflects their daily life at Casa Al-Fatiha: their residence, which transitioned from a hostel and interdisciplinary arts space to a sanctuary for LGBTQ+ asylum seekers released from immigration detention. The positive, communal outlook provides an invitation into the home for those seeking it.
Written during the pandemic, Soft Blood is a beautiful reflection of human emotion in trying circumstances. Its 38-minute runtime compresses highs and lows into a noteworthy and lingering collection of songs that will stick with the listener long after their first time hearing it.
Archie Sagers is a musician and photographer living in Brighton (U.K.). He has also run the record label Crafting Room Recordings since 2019.
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