On ‘See You In The Dark,’ Softcult are inspiring radical change from within
The title of Softcult’s latest EP, See You In The Dark, poses a spectacular challenge. When the walls begin to close in and survival feels arduous, who are you, really? Moments of adversity are character-defining, and the band’s new collection of songs is an invitation for listeners to confront the darkest edges of their psyches and lay bare their greatest fears. Vocalist-guitarist Mercedes Arn-Horn and drummer Phoenix Arn-Horn, the twin duo behind Softcult, have already been in that heady space for the past six months, when they first started writing songs for the project.
“I always feel this sense of powerlessness, whether I’m just screaming into a void and it might not matter or even powerlessness against your own emotions — not being able to really break through that wall of dissociation and be in the moment,” Mercedes admits from their home in Kitchener, Ontario.
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Phoenix, standing next to their sibling over Zoom, feels the same way. “It’s hard because we try to write songs that are empowering, but then there’s times when you don’t feel either in control of yourself or in control of the world around you,” they say. “You really do want to be the person that has all the answers, but you just aren’t.”
But by harnessing the darkness, Softcult have returned with their strongest work yet. See You In The Dark mesmerizes as much as it questions the world around them, calling for introspection, accountability, and the need for a more empathetic society. To listen to a Softcult song, though, is to reckon with their relentless creed — one that champions fourth-wave feminism, denounces corporate greed, and fosters community in equal measure.
Though the pair channel ’90s shoegaze pioneers like My Bloody Valentine and Cocteau Twins — where the instruments bleed into one another and the vocals get pummeled by a swirl of dense noise — Softcult’s riotous message always rises to the surface. The duo subdue the noise by adding more dream-pop sounds that lift the vocals from the reverb and put a brighter spot on their lyrics. It’s music meant to empower, to disrupt, to make you feel seen.
“One Of A Million” evokes the shimmering haze of Men I Trust, a fellow Canadian band that Mercedes cites as her first post-pandemic lockdown live show. “Someone2Me,” a blurry trance that takes digs at a “miserable creep,” began as a “weird industrial track,” Phoenix says. They were listening to a ton of Nine Inch Nails and made it in one night, not even sure if it would become a Softcult song. That changed, however, when Mercedes added guitars and it sounded more like their band. Most eye-opening of all, though, is their riot grrrl ripper “Dress.” It’s a dire call for consent atop a catchy instrumental that feels like a descendant of Bikini Kill’s “Liar,” their 1991 barrage against those who feed rape culture. By its end, cries of “Won’t ever feel the same again/I’ll never be the same again” reveal a chilling truth that’s based on both their and their friends’ experiences.
“It sucks how many people can relate to that song,” Mercedes says plainly. The need for acceptance, she believes, prompts young women to want to grow up faster. “That feels like such a special feeling when you’re young and you don’t really understand what objectification is, [but] the power that you already have doesn’t come from someone noticing you.”
There tends to be a lot of debate, too, that the way women present themselves attracts harassment. “Those [are] unfair expectations of women and fem people,” Phoenix adds. “You should be able to wear whatever you want. You should be able to have fun…” The pair are so synchronized that they speak those words simultaneously — a harmony that ripples across their music. “And go out and not worry about having anything happen to you.”
On “Drain,” Mercedes sings, “Why should we dare to livе forever if nobody cares to changе for the better?” over a propulsive gauze. That lyric is core to the band’s ethos, always striving to be better than they were. In fact, figuring out how she’ll improve her own well-being this year has loomed large in Mercedes’ mind. The guitarist has let herself spiral and get trapped in dark mindsets, she admits, before shutting down or taking her mood out on loved ones in the past. “My main thing now is to try and be present,” Mercedes says, ragging herself for how “cliche” that sounds. “We have to live our lives, and you can be better for the people around you if you’re actually there in that moment and not lost in something from 10 years ago.”
Phoenix has experienced the same suffocating vice grip. “I have a hard time when I’m going through it. It can be debilitating sometimes where I feel like, exactly what Cedes said, I’ll have something going on, and then it’ll just end up sucking [the people around me] into it as well. It’s something to work on,” they explain.
Still, Softcult hope to imbue their powerful ethos even deeper with their live show, where the band are currently in the midst of their first headlining tour. They recently concluded the North America leg of their run and are turning their focus toward the other side of the pond in April. “[We want to] put on an even more pro live show, really lean into it, because our first experiences with touring with this project were right when lockdowns lifted, and we hadn’t played shows in a long time,” Phoenix says. The magnitude of being headliners isn’t lost on them. “We have to be at a certain level.”
“We know now that people will show up,” Mercedes adds with a smile.
Onstage, Softcult’s presence is bigger than ever. Mercedes frequently launches into inspiring speeches and the origins behind their songs. At one point, she informs the audience about the death of Sarah Everard — a woman who was kidnapped and killed by a police officer in London — before beginning “BWBB,” a song they wrote the night they heard about the attack. She raises her middle fingers during the chorus as the guitars thrash behind her words. Other times, moody interludes set the tone for their hypnotic scuzz. But Softcult are also a reminder that no one is really alone. “This next song is about being depressed and not being able to leave your bed,” Mercedes says before kicking into “Gloomy Girl,” a cut from their 2021 debut EP Year Of The Rat. The crowd can relate, letting out cheers as the fuzzy din takes hold.
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