The music of Sore Eros sounds like it comes from far, far away. This is due in part to the decidedly lo-fi recording, but more importantly (and more interestingly) results from Second Chants‘ creative use of negative aural space. The murky mass of guitar, bass, drums, and synths that surround frontman (and main creative force) Robert D. Robinson’s murmured vocals seems to ebb and flow endlessly, with various instruments fading in and out of the mix seemingly at random. The lo-fi part of the equation should come as no surprise, given the fact that Robinson spent time playing with Ariel Pink (as well as Panda Bear), but whereas Pink’s compositions generally bury well-formed pop songs below layers of grime, Robinson’s are altogether more fragile and harder to pin down. Second Chants feels deliberately unfinished and tentative, always on the verge of dissolution and decay even it threatens to congeal into something more conventional, recognizable and banal.
Aided by multi-instrumentalist Adam Langellotti throughout (as well Gary War and Kurt Vile on handful of tracks), Robinson largely avoids the pitfalls that his approach might pose. On one hand, his songs are never too minimal, always offering the semblance of melody and even hooks, but on the other, they avoid simply devolving into a “deconstructive” approach that would formulaically bury or defamiliarize the more conventional elements through lo-fi hiss or sloppy playing. He seems to oscillate between two main paradigms, one that suggests an embryonic version of shoegaze pop (“Smile on Your Face,” “One by One”) and another that moves closer to ethereal, meditative folk (“Before Animals,” “Go Back My Love”). There’s a sense of dialing through weak radio signals that fade in and out at a moment’s notice.
The least interesting tracks here are the most conventional and structured, such as the Pink-style pop of “Lips Like Wine,” or the overly sweet and gentle “Whisper Me.” Robinson’s music is most effective at its most fragile: the barely-there “song” that opens “The Dream Self” is quickly swallowed up by a synth swell and replaced by a lengthy series of guitar arpeggios, while closer and highlight “Tightest Touch” lays Vile’s reverb-soaked trumpet and Robinson’s unintelligible vocals over a slightly shaky drum and bass groove, as though all the players were too exhausted (or stoned) to fill in the empty space and pull off the more fully-formed song that the beginning of the track suggests.
Despite its occasional gestures towards a more familiar kind of lo-fi pop, Second Chants is largely successful in conveying the strangeness to which it seems to aspire. Robinson is less a songwriter than a studio artist, and delivers the most impressive results when he privileges pure sound and atmosphere over structure. Sore Eros make rich and subtle music that resists easy description or comprehension, but that seems to make perfect sense as soon as one stops trying to figure it out.