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Soft Commands

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Album Review

Ex-Posies frontman Ken Stringfellow returns for another round of intricate pop/rock confections with the FM-ready Soft Commands. This time around, the singer/songwriter and multi-instrumentalist broadens his horizons with forays into Burt Bacharach soft rock, soul, and even dub. Writing and recording all over the world — New York, Senegal, Stockholm, Seattle, Paris, Vancouver, and Hollywood — Stringfellow has concocted a frustratingly obtuse record that's as beautiful and bold as it is shapeless and erratic. Soft Commands plays like a compilation, taking on Jackson Browne pop ("You Drew"), experimental reggae ("You Became the Dawn"), and heavily orchestrated Phil Spector bliss ("When You Find Someone") with varying results — the latter sounds like a sequel to the Walker Brothers' 1966 classic "The Sun Ain't Gonna Shine Anymore." Stringfellow's crystal-clear vocals have always been among his stronger attributes, and they couldn't be any better on tracks like the gorgeous and epic closer "Death of a City," but when he attempts a multi-note soul croon on the bluesy "Let Me Do," the cool confidence that rings true within the confines of his pop material is rendered shaky and thin by a milieu he may be better off appreciating from afar. Soft Commands is full of the intricate arrangements and clever wordplay that power pop fans have come to expect from the artist, and nowhere is that more apparent than on the serpentine rocker "Don't Die," a heavy, complex, and blissfully Posie-esque rumination on death that requires several listens before attaching itself to your brain like a remora to a shark. It's a reminder that despite the occasional deviation, Stringfellow is still capable of balancing beauty and danger within the confines of the four-minute pop song, and for fans of melodic rock everywhere, that's a damn good thing.


Born: 30 October 1968 in Los Angeles, CA

Genre: Rock

Years Active: '80s, '90s, '00s, '10s

Ken Stringfellow is co-founder of one of the most critically acclaimed power pop bands of the '90s, the Posies, which he formed in 1989 with Jon Auer. Based in Bellingham, Washington, the two created a demo tape in Auer's parents' basement and sent it to PopLlama Records in Seattle. The tape was well-received, and the duo ultimately released it as the Posies' first album, Failure. They signed with Geffen's DGC label and released three albums that were revered by music critics while going unnoticed...
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Soft Commands, Ken Stringfellow
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