“BLACK IS PLAYED out as a band name, but not as the second word,” says Vincent Cacchione, the mastermind behind Brooklyn’s psych-folk band Soft Black. He’s right.There are thousands of bands whose names begin with “black.”
It’s an easy band name. Everything’s black. Dice. Lips. Mold. A mountain.The Sabbath. But when you move the over-used first word to second, it’s intriguing. A new spin on an old formula.
The first thing I think of when I listen to Soft Black is the Soft White Underbelly, the original name for Blue Oyster Cult.The two have almost nothing in common sonically, but each band had their shit together thematically.While concept strains can be found throughout Blue Oyster Cult’s discography, the band tied it all together with 1988’s Imaginos. Soft Black’s The Earth is Black is as cohesive as Imaginos. It’s based on a series of Cacchione’s dreams, though some should really be called nightmares.
“I had this dream: I woke up from my bed, and I walked outside.There’s a kind of haziness about the landscape, and there was kind of a red glow above everything. I was walking down the street, and I noticed that there were just piles and piles of bodies— Holocaust style—all on top of each other. "They were totally white and totally drained of all their blood,” says Cacchione.The music at the beginning of the album evokes this image, which is on the cover.
When I hear Soft Black, I think of oldtimey photos, those fuzzy black-and-white pictures of Leadbelly or Woody Guthrie sitting in a chair holding a guitar.That’s not exactly how Soft Black looks. Seeing the band live will conjure images of a grainy Crawdaddy cover from 1967. Long hair. Hippy clothes.They lean toward psychedelic rock live, especially when the guitars and synths start swirling around, but the record has more to do with blues Dylan and the spaceyfolk hybrid the Byrds.
For anyone missing bands than can write straight-up sing-alongs along with deep rock tracks, the bass/drum heavy “I Am An Animal” and the 13th Floor Elevators-esque rocker “Did You Put a Spell On Me?” are addictive; they get everyone bouncing.
Drummer Michael Stefanov and bassist Matthew Molnar prove to be a damn good rhythm section, and Brian Amsterdam’s guitar freak outs are some of the best in the city. Cacchione was born in Jersey and moved to Brooklyn in 2002. After making friends in the anti-folk community at Avenue A’s Sidewalk Café, he formed Soft Black.The band released an LP, Blue Gold, in 2007 and a 7”, Pearl With No String on Molnar’s Plays With Dolls Records before releasing The Earth Is Black on July 21. So if they were going for mysterious with the whole band name thing, they have succeeded.They are very mysterious. Most current Brooklyn bands don’t have lyrics like, “Everybody´s chewing on the limbs of children…We´re all kissing the dirt and decomposing” from the bittersweet “Kissing the Dirt.” You might be singing along and not even realize it’s about biting a child’s rotting arm. Yet for all its horror, the album never gets depressing. Cacchione reveals crazy visions; but instead of creating a world of horror from them, he tells the story of dealing with them.The final song “Night Terrors” goes back to the horror scene of the first song, concluding, “If I wake up shaking and my heart is racing, then I’ll wake up shaking.Then I’ll wake up shaking.” A wall of synth creeps up behind the band and the album ends.Yes, it’s disturbing, but it’s also beautiful:The narrator has accepted the horror.
So what does this bleak attitude toward the world mixed with a throwback folkpsych sound amount to? Let’s go back to the band name. “I was just trying to think of two simple words that can pull at each other and twist each other into a new feeling and a new shape,” Cacchione says, “two words that don’t necessarily need to belong together so the meaning can stay fresh for me.” Playing with the old to bring in the new.
> Soft Black
Aug. 7, The Charleston, 174 Bedford Ave. (betw. N. 7th & N. 8th Sts.), Brooklyn, 718-782-8717; 8, $7