Before We Forgot How to Dream

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Irish singer and songwriter SOAK begins her debut album with the words "A teenage heart/Is an unguided dart," and she ought to know -- SOAK (real name Bridie Monds-Watson) was just 18 years old when Before We Forgot How to Dream was released. And it's not especially hard to guess her age while listening to these songs: SOAK sounds and writes like a teenager, in the best of all possible ways, full of confidence that wrestles with a certain natural hesitance, and not the least bit afraid to wear her heart on her sleeve. SOAK's lyrical approach sometimes borders on melodrama, but it's an honest, thoroughly genuine melodrama that speaks of a time in life when so many moments seem like they're a matter of life and death. In her quiet but forceful manner, SOAK is remarkably eloquent on this album, though the childlike timber of her vocals and her strong Irish accent mean some listeners will have to judge her intent from tone rather than the literal meaning of the lyrics, at least on first listen. Producer Tommy McLaughlin has the good sense not to fancy up these songs too much -- while there are effective and atmospheric washes of keys, percussion, and strings on Before We Forgot How to Dream, the principal focus is always on SOAK's vocals and guitar, and the spare, echoey sound of the album gives the songs weight without robbing them of their intimacy (though the three brief passages of sculpted noises could probably be lost without hurting the album in any appreciable way). SOAK's youth is so much a virtue on Before We Forgot How to Dream that one wonders how much her music will change when she hits her twenties and sees the world after a few concert tours, but there's a lot of very real talent on display here, and it's fortunate that she's been captured for the ages while she's still fresh and her voice remains unique and very much her own.

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