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Soft Circle - Full Bloom

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Artist: Soft Circle

Album: Full Bloom

Label: Eastern Developments

Review date: Mar. 15, 2007

When Black Dice released Beaches and Canyons in 2002, it was the product of a shift in aesthetic that won the group a large number of new fans and a heaping collection of critical praise. But if Beaches… was a legitimate revelation, its followers have been far less impressive, as the freak-outs have grown more tedious, and the band’s electronics are served with ever growing helpings of noodles. Hisham Akira Bharoocha, who left the band in 2004, likely wasn’t Black Dice’s sole original thinker, though perhaps it’s no coincidence that his departure predated Broken Ear Record, which recycles Black Dice’s current M.O. to a degree that borders on monotonous. Full Bloom, Baroocha’s debut under the Soft Circle pseudonym, mines the expansive qualities that marked some of his former outfit’s best work, though there’s a sense of a personal and emotional intimacy that pervades much of the disc, an atmosphere in line with Baroocha’s interest the exploration of religious philosophy and spirituality.

As stated in Dusted’s digital pages a while back, Bharoocha’s musical aim is to translate the beauty of everyday life into sound, a lofty goal, to be certain, especially for a one-man band. Full Bloom often seems to aim for the ethereal, and the meditation Bharoocha practices regularly is an evident inspiration, with the soft edges and smooth planes of New Age a frequent ingredient, even if in diluted, dispersed form.

Bharoocha’s wordless vocals, delayed and layered, echo primitive religious chant, but can’t steer completely clear of evoking the aura of contemporary hipster exotica, a microcosm of the greater issue that hounds Full Bloom. Bharoocha’s background, in senses both musical and personal, suggests that he’s not simply another hack plying drug-induced stabs at deeper communication with self and audience via cheap appropriations of ethnic, folk, and meditational musical forms. Full Bloom, however, can’t always evade the vestiges of such slop, and often comes up feeling empty as a result. Bharoocha’s vocals, though excellent in spots, are a frequent culprit – the old trick of layering the voice in echoes has been abused far too often by now to avoid sounding contrived even in the hands of worthy artists, and Bharoocha’s not wholly immune. When they emerge, vaguely tribal rhythms are often at odds with the more ethereal atmosphere that encompasses most of the disc, and some of Bharoocha’s synth voicing, most notably on “Stones and Trees,” is suggestive in all the wrong ways of the New Age drivel that’s given a bad name to a genre no more odious at its core than any other.

Full Bloom isn’t bereft of moments in which Bharoocha’s aspirations are legitimately reached, the crescendo of “Moon Oar Sunrise” being perhaps the best example. And, to be fair, part of the album’s failure to reach spiritual escape velocity is the context in which it was created. Artwork is a product of its surroundings, and were Full Bloom to exist in a vacuum, it might come off differently, but, as it stands, the album isn’t able to separate itself from a throng of Nth-generation panderers. Bharoocha’s dedication to spiritual growth and pure emotional expression aren’t in question, but Full Bloom doesn’t live up to the promise of its inspiration. But as Bharoocha continues to seek out personal enlightenment, continued musical development is sure to follow, and the promise of Soft Circle’s mission may yet be fulfilled.

By Adam Strohm

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