August 12, 2014 - Barsuk
American Soft's title could very well be a self-effacing shot at Chris Staples' own musical history of heartbroken indie/emo-rock (twothirtyeight, Discover America), especially given the stripped-down, largely acoustic nature of this, his first bona fide solo venture on Barsuk Records. But even if American Soft wasn't charismatic and sly enough to avoid "Drake the type..."-like swipes at Staples' masculinity, it would probably have the same appeal based on its bevy of hooks, slight electronic flourishes and an easygoing charm.
Staples' records under the Discover America moniker ranged from decent to very good, at times imagining a folkier Evan Dando fronting Death Cab For Cutie's We Have The Facts And We're Voting Yes. While that scenario couldn't really be ascribed to American Soft, he's not doing things much differently; it's just less anguished and compositionally scaled back, resulting in a concise collection of likable neo-folk that may not lunge out with stunning moments, but finds a rather steady and uniformly compelling groove.
Though you might expect a one-dimensional affair given the birthname dependency, there's definitely variation: "Black Tornado" is an amicable, Hawaiian island shuffle; "Wurlitzer" is a self-explanatory, quietly sparkly electronic interlude with light percussion and clacking rhythms. But Staples is at his best when he's being casually scathing in his interpersonal observations, like mid-’90s Morrissey with an editor: The potentially blanketing insult chorus of "Overpaid" goes, "I am scenery/You are scenery/We should pass each other easily," and in the very next track, "Needle Park," he frankly tells an acquaintance (failing love interest?), "Well, would I ever lie to you?/Of course I would/Of course I would." By record's end on "Early Bird Tavern," he's cribbing words and melodies from his favorite jukebox Tom Petty and Bon Jovi songs, finding the intersecting lane between cheekiness and earnestness that defines American Soft's personality better than the excessive leniencies its title might wryly foreshadow.