In their sophomore album, Soft Hell, post-punk quartet Pill manages to tread carefully and deliberately along the line between aggression and chaos, dynamics and noise, energy and recklessness. Pill’s ability to master this balancing act, with a deadpan sense of humor along the way, makes Soft Hell eminently relatable for those exasperated by the current state of affairs. Whether needing to laugh, scream, or cry, Soft Hell offers the listener a place to sit openly with their emotions.
The band wastes no time establishing the tone of the album, as the lead track, “A.I.Y.M?” bursts to life with a driving bassline, raucous drum beat, and lead singer Veronica Torres’ screeching vocals. This song, along with tracks like “Midtown” showcase the fatalistic humor of the band with such lines as “welcome to Hell/Hell is the Subway” and serves critiques of urbanization, hyper-sexualization and selfishness that are simultaneously topical and timeless.
On the third song, “Fruit”, speaks to the apocalyptic tone that the news cycle has taken in recent years as Torres asks sarcastically, “what year is it?/And it’s all coming down,/it’s all coming down -/it’s all coming down!” as she cheers on the collapse.
Despite a relatively stereotypical punk arrangement and sound, the inclusion of Benjamin Jaffe’s saxophone serves to add an entirely new and welcome dimension to the band’s style. Jaffe’s sax sits eerily in the background of many of the tracks, threatening at any moment to go off the rails. The greatest example of this is on the title track, “Soft Hell”. The bass and drums set a menacing foundation upon which Jaffe squeals, adding a layer of mania upon the brooding.
The band makes no attempt at providing the listener with so much as a moment to breathe, the matter at hand is simply too pressing. On “Power Abuser”, the rhythm section underscores Torres’ urgency as she demands to be heard. “Sex sells/Money talks/(In the crusade over who owns the right to my body)” she yells, highlighting the influence of men and money over the sexual and reproductive rights of women.
Pill closes out the album as they emphatically as they open, as Torres laments the divisive nature of our discourse today, observing, “Interaction, a social debt/one that threatens our innocence/They’re taking the sweetness out of you.“ The full band erupts into a undulating, distorted swell, a rally cry whose energy last long after the end of the album.
That ability to unite and energize is what makes this album standout. The band’s frenzied attack draws the listener in, demanding their attention and exposing them to the grim realities that Torres sees around her. In a world so characterized by chaos, bands like Pill, with their ability to insightfully speak truth to power, are as important and relevant as they have ever been.