Review: SoKo - I Thought I Was An Alien

SoKo's music is emotionally charged, and while some have the gift of turning that into something moving, others just sound affected. I Thought I Was An Alien has moments of both.

B | 03.06.12 | BECAUSE MUSIC | MP3

On the opening track of I Thought I Was An Alien Stephanie Sokolinski, aka SoKo, tells her listener, in a morose tone, that “you will discover [her] through her songs/ learn [her] heartbreaks and fears and depressions.” Strangely enough, she means it. Everything about the delivery suggests that SoKo is being ironic but it quickly becomes clear that this album is not intent on being coy. Sokolinski’s songs are detailed and vivid ruminations on heartbreak, death, and life’s general discomforts. While these themes are common, they are more often tackled subtly, perhaps through extended metaphors or obscure allusions. SoKo opts for the Old Man and the Sea approach—say what you mean and be done with it. I was discouraged by this at first (and I still think it falls a bit flat) but, ultimately, it fits perfectly alongside SoKo’s sophisticated twee-pop.

For such a young artist SoKo already has quite the dramatic back story. In 2007, her song “I’ll Kill Her” was a chart topper in Europe. For the next two years her live performances, which were supposedly upwards of 3 hours, would routinely sell out. Then in January of 2009 she announced a musical hiatus, citing the pressures of her newfound music career. The hiatus was short-lived, however, as she started recording again in August. Having listened to her debut LP, (and knowing that she felt the need to take a break from music before even releasing that debut) I wouldn’t bet against a few more hiatuses somewhere down the line. Her music is emotionally charged in that way. And while some have the gift of turning that into something moving, others just sound affected. I Thought I Was An Alien has moments of both.

SoKo’s instrumentation centers around soft acoustic melodies. Songs like “No More Love, No More Home”, “For Marlon”, and “I’ve Been Alone Too Long” are stark, as it is just the guitar line accompanying Sokolinski’s quivering vocals. Reminiscent of Julie Doiron (if she were French and more depressed) and Alela Diane, these tracks are subdued and often lovely. They have a charming quality and give the listener the sense that they are inches away from SoKo’s face, as she whispers something secret and personal. However, I also think these tracks are slight. They don’t necessarily have the intended impact. The sullen, intense acoustic ballad is best reserved for the weary, drug addled singer-songwriter. When it’s a Nick Drake or an Elliot Smith, I buy it. But around the fourth time that SoKo has repeated the line “soon enough we’ll die”, it inevitably sounds disingenuous.

The album is at its strongest when Sokolinski embraces her pop sensibilities. Halfway through “People Always Look Better In The Sun (Part 1)” the melody morphs into something light and smile-inducing. It instantly reminds me of the Timber Timbre song “Black Magic”, which also sports a meandering pop arrangement and reference to the sun. Both tracks show the lighter side of a predominantly dark album, and, in both cases, they are welcome additions. So too is “First Love Never Die”, a guitar pop gem that is probably the best song on the album. SoKo sings about reuniting with her first love. She captures all of the anxieties of that experience—resurrected feelings, nostalgia, indignation. That she does this over a Belle and Sebastian-esque arrangement ending in a beautiful horn crescendo makes it all the better.

Although I am still that confident that another hiatus is imminent, I hope that Sokolinski continues to write. I think she will really become something special when she stops trying to prove that that’s exactly what she is.