Time is both our most omnipresent yet precious resource, always moving too slow or running out too fast. The convoluted career of Sandro Perri can be seen as an ongoing effort to find the right balance between those two states, to make time feel like it’s moving at just the right pace. Whether it takes the form of chilled acoustic pop, abstract electronica, or post-rock odysseys, Perri’s defiantly unhurried music asks that we savor the moment. His records are busy, vibrant, and bursting with life, but aren’t ever in a rush to get anywhere. But even an island-time adherent like Perri can appreciate that the seven-year layoff between 2011’s Impossible Spaces and 2018’s In Another Life was probably a bit too leisurely, so he’s followed the biggest gap in his solo discography with the shortest one.
Soft Landing arrives just a year after its predecessor and, on the surface, assumes a similar structure, in that it features one very long song followed by a handful of much shorter ones. But each of Perri’s albums to date have existed in their own distinct, discrete sonic universe, and Soft Landing is no different. Where past releases have showcased the tropical troubadour, the Arthur Russell-inspired avant-funk alchemist, and Eno-esque conceptualist, Soft Landing emphasizes a heretofore underrated facet of his personality: Sandro Perri, guitar hero. Sure, Perri’s sublime use of pedal steel has long been a signature of his work (both as a solo artist and as ambient-techno producer Polmo Polpo), but Soft Landing sees him plug in and work his six-string magic on a record that caters to WIRE and Guitar World subscribers alike.
Where many artists initiating conversations between pop music and the avant-garde deploy strategies from the latter to corrupt the former, Perri works the other way—he makes meticulously layered, experimental music that feels as breezy and inviting as the smoothest yacht rock. Soft Landing is his most traditional singer/songwriter-oriented release since 2007’s Tiny Mirrors, but it both embraces the melodic integrity and warmth of ’70s AM-radio standards while stripping away the pop-song packaging to let the contents unspool in unpredictable ways. The album opens with a tranquil, tiki-torch-lit love song, albeit a 16-minute one dedicated to time itself, as Perri grapples with the ultimate dysfunctional long-term relationship: “I can remember, not long ago, I said you move too slow/When people tried to tell me that you were on my side/Now that we’ve spent some years together, it seems like you’re more indifferent/You don’t take sides.” And so, four minutes in, he liberates himself from the limitations of time and redirects this wind-chimed beachside ballad into a gloriously messy, extended jam that suggests the Velvet Underground if Warhol’s Factory were relocated to a South Pacific cruise ship. But as the song swells into an all-consuming tsunami of tangled guitar lines, mutated piano plinks, and unidentified squeals, its slow-motion groove remains as steady as waves on a moonlit ocean, reminding us of time’s ceaseless march despite Perri’s best efforts to halt it.
If “Time (You Got Me)” is a masterclass in controlled, calming chaos, Soft Landing’s shorter tracks favor a formal and tonal clarity, using their surroundings to amplify their emotional undercurrents. With exception of the atypically irreverent sleepwalking soul of “God Blessed the Fool,” the remainder of Soft Landing features some of the most direct, affecting songs in Perri’s canon. “Wrong About the Rain” drizzles a clavinet-funk groove in luxuriant guitarpeggios, but that plush exterior can’t conceal a festering urban angst: “I need the sand, I need the swim, I need that thing that happens when, out there all day, time slips away.” And with “Floriana” and the title track, Perri applies his guitar wizardry to a pair of drifting yet dramatic instrumentals that conjure mid-’70s fretboard-squeezers like Santana’s “Europa” and Jeff Beck’s “Diamond Dust” with their tear-jerking technique.
Those aren’t the sort of names that normally come up in discussions about a Constellation Records release—or about any left-field indie artist for that matter—but as ever, Perri manages to filter these unexpected influences through his own humble, perpetually zen personality until they feel like a natural part of his meditative milieu. Accordingly, Perri counterbalances Soft Landing’s more audacious indulgences with the disarmingly simple and effortless “Back on Love,” a plaintive acoustic plea that not only echoes the melody of John Lennon’s “Imagine,” but also its message of holding onto our compassion in a cruel world. In both sound and sentiment, the song epitomizes that cherished quality Perri has been chasing his entire career—it is, in a word, timeless.
Buy: Rough Trade
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