Soft Shelter is a talented young singer-songwriter, guitarist and music producer based in the bucolic coastal city of Santa Barbara, California. Currently a graduate student studying literature at University of California, Santa Barbara, he writes songs that explore such themes as memory, nostalgia, time, relationships, and climate change. His pleasing style of indie dream pop is laced with alt-rock, psychedelic and electronic elements, and delivered mostly with guitar, programmed synths and his soft, breathy vocals. He writes, arranges, produces and mixes all his own music in his home studio.
The prolific artist has released a tremendous amount of music over the past year, starting with his first single “Ashes” in November 2019, which he followed with two EPs and several singles, two of which – his EP Judgment Day and his single “Just a Ride” I reviewed earlier this year. (You can read those reviews by clicking on the links under “Related” at the end of this post.). Now the busy man is back with a new four-song EP No Exits, which dropped on December 4th. He recorded the EP in his home studio with assistance by Noah Kastenbaum on songwriting and guitar, as well as backing vocal harmonies on “Those Days” and “No Exits.” Drums on “Butterflies” and “No Exits” were played by Grant Whitson. The EP was mastered by Matt Pereira (aka KOMAK), and the artwork was designed by Nikki Castro.
Opening track “Time (Pressure)” has an edgier rock vibe than Soft Shelter’s more typical sound, highlighted by Noah Kastenbaum’s terrific fuzz-coated electric guitar. I really like Soft Shelter’s languid melody and swirling synths that nicely complement Noah’s bluesy guitar licks. The lyrics speak to the relentless passage of time, and the pressures it places on our psyche and the way we live our lives, sometimes missing out on savoring the good stuff in our rush to the next big thing: “Hey wait – it’s gettin’ late. Don’t go – we’ll miss the show. Can’t sit and waste the time standin’ in that stupid line.”
On the contemplative “Butterflies“, he starts the track with a quote by French actress Anna Karina in the 1962 French film Vivre sa vie (My Life to Live), in which she leaves her husband and infant son hoping to become an actress, but ends up becoming a prostitute. She says “I forget that I’m responsible but I am. No, it’s like what I was saying: wanting to escape is a joke. After all, everything is beautiful, you just have to take interest in things and find them beautiful.” As such, “Butterflies” at first touches on the intense feelings of desire for someone: “She gave me butterflies every time and didn’t have to try. She made me lose my mind every time and didn’t have to try“, but then hits us with a cold reality that those feelings might fade: “How long ‘til you’re bored w/ this metamorphosis? How long ‘til you’re bored w/ this faded elegance?” Soft Shelter uses gentle piano chords and lush synths to create a dreamy backdrop for his soft, wistful vocals.
“Those Days” is a lovely, introspective track that Soft Shelter states was “written after an intensely nostalgic experience.” His delicate mix of shimmery synths, piano, horns and xylophone are supplemented with Noah’s subtle electric guitar notes and backing vocals that give the song a gentle anthemic quality. Soft Shelter’s breathy vocals are especially enchanting as he softly croons “Back home after many years. Is it time to face my fears? And before these memories nostalgia takes its toll on me. And what’s past was never meant to last.”
On the title track “No Exits”, he uses a double entendre to reflect on both the anxieties over climate-change and to serve as a metaphor for challenges faced in a long-term relationship: “Oh lord, tell us how we’ve strayed. Would we wanna go back anyway? The hourglass has melted away. The sun’s burning us and we can’t stay.” Musically, the song starts off with strummed acoustic and electric guitars accompanied by gentle bass, keyboard synths and soft percussion that give a mellow folk-rock vibe. Gradually, the instrumentals and vocals build to a harder rock crescendo as the song ends in a flourish of distortion.
No Exits is a great little EP that nicely showcases Soft Shelter’s growth as a songwriter, musician and producer. I like that he’s exploring his rock side a bit more, while continuing to write compelling lyrics that draw from both personal and timely, as well as classic themes.
Here’s a YouTube audio of the entire EP:
Or, listen to individual tracks on Bandcamp: