Music Reviews
Soft Landing

Sandro Perri Soft Landing

(Constellation) Rating - 7/10

For two decades Sandro Perri has been a beacon of experimental folk glimmering just below the radar in Toronto. His efforts came to fruition when, a couple of years back, Perri made a splash with his spacey, jazzy LP, Impossible Spaces. I dug that album immensely, so I was a bit let down when Perri's next record turned out to be made up of a 24-minute long opener that went in circles to the point of quiet, moody tedium.

The second half of that record, In Another Life, offered a triptych of songs (Everybody's Paris Pt. I, II, and III) featuring fellow Canadians Andre Ethier (not the baseball player) and Dan Bejar (of Destroyer). Those tracks were only marginally more interesting than the marathon track, except for Ethier's contribution, which serves as a reminder for everyone to check out Ethier's solo stuff and the catalogue by his Polaris Prize-nominated band, The Deadly Snakes. And it's not that I don't like long tracks. Take the aforementioned Dan Bejar, who, with Destroyer, recorded a 13-minute ambient disco jam (Bay of Pigs). Though Bejar's song takes its time to get somewhere, unlike Perri's walkathon, Bejar knows when to hit the accelerator.

With that in mind, I was disappointed to see that Perri's latest album, Soft Landing, starts with a 16-minute track: Time (You Got Me). Bracing myself, I began to listen. As with his 24-minute song, Perri ruminates in a soft falsetto, his vulnerable croon drifting through a current of gentle guitar, meandering piano, exhales of wind-chimes, and a deliberately laid back array of bongos, woodblocks, and finger snaps. As the song progresses, Perri's lyrics, which intone, “Time, you got me, got me,” drop away and are replaced by increasingly psychedelic instruments like chattering trumpets and guitars dancing up stairs, part of a dervish of sounds heaving in and out like waves sloshing up sand.

Defying my expectations, the mesmerizing song never feels overlong. Whatever Perri was going for on In Another Life's tedious long track, which he referred to as an experiment in “infinite song-writing,” seems to be paying off here. It's one thing to explore the infinite, but it's another to bring your listener along. And in the case of Soft Landing's Time (You Got Me), Perri has found himself capable of lifting us into the cosmos, then leaving us in a sublime, cushy atmosphere, where I found myself ruminating on my own thoughts.

None of the other five cuts on Soft Landing are longer than six minutes, nor are they quite as transportive. The most interesting of the bunch are the instrumental tracks bookending the album's second half. Floriana conjures a melancholy mood with a romantic melody played first by a flute, then a guitar, until trumpets finally take over. It's like the love-theme from a 70s Italian film. The title track, also an instrumental, and the closing song plays it cool: the lo-fi chamber pop number brings to mind a Natural History Museum grotto after hours; artificial rocks are hued with phosphorescence and glowing bugs crawl like strings of Christmas lights.

However, the three lyric-driven songs sandwiched between the instrumental jewels are hard to connect with on an emotional level. Beats are restrained past the point of dreaminess and into the realm of boredom. Perri wants to take us to a beatnik nightclub in a strange country, but the illusion doesn't take. He tries for nostalgia, but winds up monotonous and uninteresting.

Perri's brand of low-key, lo-fi grooves, which bear genetic hints of funk and R&B, bring to mind Connan Mockasin, another progenitor of the kind of fragile music that seems to have influenced the burgeoning bedroom pop scene. As with Mockasin, Perri functions best when he gives in to the psychedelic aspect of his sound, yielding vivid, strange explorations. Also like Mockasin, Perri has a tendency to find a groove he enjoys, whether it's captivating or not, and croons along in lazy, falsetto flutters that induce narcolepsy. I get that Perri doesn't want to be as pop-friendly or disciplined as fellow altos Milosh or James Blake. But in that case, Perri needs to lean into the experimental nature of his work—take more risks, and avoid being so laid back that his ghostly melodies have all the impact of a polite, good-natured apparition.