Bridie Monds-Watson has a powerful and introspective way of portraying her message, which is usually a mix of lessons and reflections on growing up. Her lyrics have a lot of history and unique perspective that give it a stand-out feeling unlike most folk artists. Hailing from Derry, Northern Ireland, there is a lot an artist can pull from this city, and SOAK does not miss a beat.
She began in 2012 by self releasing Sea Creatures EP, which would end up on this album as the lead single. When you’ve got something really good, you can’t give up on it. Her second EP, trains, was self released as well and contained three more original tracks. In 2014, SOAK was picked up by Rough Trade Records, who promptly released “Ba noBody”, “Blud”, and “Shuvels”. At this time, she collaborated with CHVRCHES on a remix of “Blud” that was released on their label, Goodbye Records, on a 12” record along with “Explosions” and “24 Windowed House”.
My first interaction with SOAK came in 2016 at the beginning of the Lumineers “Cleopatra” tour which began at Red Rocks, just miles from my house. Here, she opened for them on a lovely warm July night, and you could tell she added an electricity to the air everyone could feel. Very few opening acts can leave an impression like SOAK.
My first, second, and third impressions when listening to Before We Forgot How to Dream were how vital these songs sound. Some albums you can just tell not a second of runtime is wasted. I remember first showing the album to my father, a fellow music nerd, who ended up picking it up himself and listening to it on his morning commute.
The album begins with a plea in ”B a noBody”, beckoning the listener would come down to her level so she can tell her story. Put yourself in her position as she tells the story on this album. Originally released in 2014 as a single, this song was also a bit of an introduction to the theme of this album. The acoustic guitar is a fundamental part of her soft, emotional sound, and this song does an excellent job of setting up for it.
“Blud” comes next, opening with light guitar strumming. Later, drums and an airy sounding electric guitar come in and fill the sound. Most of the song is undercut by a quiet yet thumping bass. It all sounds like a stream of consciousness where the subject of the lyrics is working through their life, and the singer wants to help, but knows they can only give so much of themselves up to fixing up this person. “You’re in my blood. I’m in your blood” connects to this theme of them both being interconnected, which drives this conflict in the narator.
In “Wait” we get a more folk sounding song with strings and rattling drums in the back. Here SOAK sings with such intention and purpose, every word sounds important. She uses this method of speaking where the statement “if you’re waiting for someone to waste space with” comes before the answer “you’ll be waiting your whole life” like it’s a conclusion she had to come to herself.
The song that follows is “Sea Creatures”, a very manicured song and by far the most polished track on the record. This song begins with sounds of water breaking on rocks, which starts a common theme. Here we also hear more Pop Rock sounds like flat drums, bass, keys, and some strings for good dramatic effect. The theme here centers around not fitting in, and the person you have feelings for isn’t authentic about their feelings. Here this character tries to pull this person away from everyone else who she feels aren’t as caring as they say they are. The feelings she is portraying of feeling love for the first time and believing no one else knows this feeling like you are is common and relatable; however, her use of the analogy of everyone else being “sea creatures” who “interfere” with these feelings and plans is geniously unique.
The 58 second interlude after this is surprisingly meaningful. Titled “‘a dream to fly’” carries the same watery theme as sea creatures with the sound of a bubbling brook, warm strings like rays of light, the sound of shoes on gravel, and the hum of a high airplane painting this vivid picture. One cannot help but to pick out the sound of the aircraft over everything, as if pointing out the contrast between nature/purity and these beasts of men.
My favorite track also happens to be one of the simplest ones. “24 Windowed House” consists solely of SOAK and a guitar, only towards the end do we hear some crashing drums and keys to underlay the importance of the sound. This is also a rather dark drack, with themes of abuse, depression, and emotional baggage. I can’t get exactly to the underlying message, but it is clear the story of this song comes from a sensitive place. “I am waiting for the morning light to shine through her transparent eyes”, this line evokes a lot of emotions, but the meaning is somewhere around wanting someone to realize something. The transparent eyes could also reference how they weren’t aware of this injustice in the first place. Sound wise I love how she begins to heavily strum as the stronger climax come in, which gets underlined by a loud, reverb heavy bass guitar.
The next few songs fall into a group of songs about getting close and then losing. Whether it’s about different people and situations or two sides of the same coin, the story is the same, beginning, middle, and end. “Garden” serves to lift the mood a bit with a love song about getting close to someone and sharing your dark sides and sad pasts. This person isn’t in her life yet, though she can’t help but to dream. Another one of her older songs, “Shuvels” is a beautiful song about growth after loss. The subject of this song has left her with memories and a “ghost” that follows her around. This track finds its importance in its depiction of the grief process and how haunting it can be. Like a happy ending, “Hailstorms Don’t Hurt” depicts a point where she comes out of this loss in her life with a new motivation to persevere and move on. Her vocals are like the uplifting pop songs about breakups that we are all familiar with, but with of course more depth and meaning. Moving on isn’t easy, as SOAK knows, so we hear “but I don’t wanna” repeated after “we should move on” and “I refuse to give up.”
The drums on all of these tracks as well are punchy without drowning anything out, just like the bass. On all of these Bridie’s voice shines through like a guide through these complex feelings. “Reckless Behaviour” comes at the end of songs beginning with “24 Windowed House” and serves as her coming to peace with the mistakes she has made, being young, and not letting the past hold you down. “Reckless behaviour, I know no better” is sung like a mantra to help remind that it is okay to be imperfect and not do exactly the right things.
After the next interlude, the album ends on “Oh Brother”, which is another song about losing someone close to you, a brother. The positioning and mood of this track make it sound more personal than the rest. “Pretend we are who we used to be before we forgot how to dream.” This last line of the song, and the whole album, encapsulate the theme best.
In a way, this album is like a letter to the past. “Look what you have put me through. Look who I have lost. Look how I’ve hurt. Look how I’ve grown.” The beauty of this album is twofold. On one side there are the lovely, heartbreaking, vital lyrics, and on the other are intelligently arranged instruments that serve their purpose in creating a larger, fuller sound that complements, not overwhelms, Bridie’s voice. The perspective both her vocals and lyrics bring are what set this album apart and make it such a unique record.