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Ms. John Soda - While Talking

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Artist: Ms. John Soda

Album: While Talking

Label: Morr Music

Review date: Dec. 3, 2003

Whether intentionally so or not, While Talking is a particularly apt title for Ms. John Soda’s recent EP, the follow-up to their 2002 debut No P. or D. There is little singing on the album’s five tracks, but a wealth of lengthy monologues and half-spoken vocals (à la Kim Gordon). Such a heavy reliance on the English language is a risky venture for Ms. John Soda, a German duo comprised of Stefanie Böhm and Micha Acher (formerly of the Notwist); they don’t exactly pull it off without a hitch, but if nothing else, prove that music is more about sound than verbal language, even when the latter is given a privileged role.

While Talking finds Ms. John Soda straying from the heavy use of electronics that gave No P. or D. an electro-acoustic texture similar to the Notwist’s Neon Golden, and opting for more traditional arrangements driven by guitar, piano, and drums. The resulting sound still conveys the delicate lyrical melancholy that’s become something of a hallmark of the Morr label, favoring subtle textures and atmosphere over prominent hooks and melodies. Unfortunately, Stefanie Böhm’s newfound penchant for drawn-out soliloquizing relegates the music to the background on many of While Talking’s tracks. Despite an enticing musical backdrop, “Sometimes Stop, Sometimes Go” often comes across like an inspirational sermon, with Böhm imparting dubious words of wisdom like “it’s not about saying yes or no/it’s not about a stop or go/it’s more about what is within and how you get there in your mental scene.” “I Think it Could Work, Marilyn”, likewise prioritizes speech, laying out an imagined dialogue between a still-living Elvis Presley and Marilyn Monroe (both parts spoken by Böhm in an effectively deadpan monotone) over a gentle synth-driven backing track. It’s better than one might expect, but still feels empty and unfinished, like a just-for-fun throwaway rather than a substantial addition to a canon. The album is rounded out by two other originals (“no. one”, “If Someone Would Know”), neither of which measure up to the best material on No P. or D., and an enjoyable but disposable remix-medley of material from that album by electronic artist Subtle.

Overall, While Talking comes across like a mixed bag of odds and ends. Nonetheless, Ms. John Soda’s talent and charm are not entirely absent; the group’s gift for texture and instrumental arrangement are still in evidence, as is Stefanie Böhm’s voice, lovely and emotive regardless of whatever it happens to be saying. When While Talking succeeds, it’s in spite of rather than because of its preoccupation with the verbal; the album conveys the most meaning when the words can be perceived as sounds stripped of their significations, transformed into instruments themselves.

By Michael Cramer

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