Next year will mark 20 years since Karl Smith and Pete Cohen started up Sodastream. Releasing four albums, four EPs, and a live record during their original lifespan, Sodastream left an indelible mark on Australian music. Now they’ve returned with Little by Little, their first album in a decade.
From the start, the duo won over fans as prominent as radio legend John Peel and music icon Moby, who named their 1998 EP Practical Footwear “Single of the Week” in Melody Maker. Carting their respective guitar and upright bass around the globe, Karl and Pete played with Pavement, Yo La Tengo, Smog, Low, and The Mountain Goats while releasing music through such influential labels as Rough Trade, Darla, Trifekta, Candle, Drive-in, and Acuarela Discos. Belle & Sebastian personally invited them to play at the first-ever All Tomorrow’s Parties festival, and even the notoriously picky Pitchfork praised their “subtle melancholy.” All of this for a homespun two-piece that had nothing to do with fashion or trends.
At home Sodastream were even more revered, building on an incredibly loyal fanbase with each of their four albums: Looks Like a Russian (2000), The Hill for Company (2001), A Minor Revival (2003), and Reservations (2006). Having relocated to Melbourne after first forming the band, Karl and Pete quickly established long-lasting bonds with other musicians, resulting in hearty collaborations and such side projects as Small Sips and Lee Memorial.
Following in the footsteps of kindred spirits The Go-Betweens and The Triffids, Sodastream made crucial in-roads to Europe, continuing that strong tradition of Antipodean indie music abroad. And during the band’s subsequent hibernation, their own legacy helped foster a flourishing Aussie guitar-pop scene that now includes Twerps, Dick Diver, and The Ocean Party – thoughtful, articulate pop bands that understand they don’t have to rock out to make an impact.
Following a six-year break, during which Karl released an acclaimed solo album and both members immersed themselves in their growing families, Sodastream resumed with a humble few shows and the promise of new material. They’ve followed through brilliantly with Little by Little, continuing to refine their craft while sounding just as fresh and intimate as ever. Working again with repeat producer and drummer Marty Brown (Clare Bowditch, Art of Fighting), the pair enlist additional embellishment from J Walker (Machine Translations), Tom Lyngcoln (Harmony, The Nation Blue), and Kelly Lane (Skipping Girl Vinegar), among other luminaries from Australia’s rich field of independent musicians.
Recorded gradually over three years and including some compositions dating back to 2006’s Reservations sessions, Little by Little immediately re-establishes Sodastream’s haunting clarity, both lyrically and musically. Pete’s rustling bass notes are the first thing we hear, ushering in opener ‘Colouring Iris’ before Karl’s folky picking and signature vocal delicateness come in. But Sodastream always ran deeper than most when it came to emotionally complex storytelling, and their new material thrives just as much on the play between darkness and light.
Karl describes moods and tendencies on ‘Habits’ that “gather a strength in the dark,” while the single-worthy standout ‘Three Sins’ (which makes a mantra out of the album’s title phrase) surprises us with the proclamation “Soon I’ll burn all these fuckers around me.” For all the plinking marimba of ‘On the Stage’ and gorgeous singing saw of ‘Saturday’s Ash’, not to mention echoes of Jackson Browne’s immortal ‘These Days’ in the babbling twang of ‘Moving’, the album delves bravely into fears that are “so tall” and just exactly how “these things get me down.” ‘Tyre Iron’ opens with startling turbulence and instability, while ‘Letting Go’ undercuts its jaunty strum with a gloomy, billowing horn section.
Never ones to rush things, Sodastream have quietly bided their time since reconvening in 2013, working away at an album that could be their best yet. That’s not hyperbole – Little by Little honours Karl and Pete’s profoundly nuanced discography even as it stretches out into masterful new terrain.
Their new album will b released in 2017 …