Sandra Kolstad – ‘SOFT HARD’

A captivating album out today from Norwegian artist Sandra Kolstad, SOFT HARD is a richly melodic and atmospheric production — melding piano-forward compositions with electronic flourishes. The album represents a stylistic shift for Kolstad, riveting in her electronic aesthetic on prior releases — and pursuing a more piano-driven sound with SOFT HARD. The stylistic shift is described as “like meeting an old enemy,” by Kolstad, who named the new album after the Italian word for the piano instrument, pianoforte.

The piano is often a gateway for musicians when they’re young, becoming acquainted with music and theory. Kolstad’s experience with the instrument, and its alignment with the classical music world, made an impact as a child — and now she returns to the instrument, with an aim to “open it up, not treat it with as much respect as I did when I was entering the classical music world as a child.”

“I’ve been obedient. It’s time for freedom,” the vocals declare aptly on the opening “Unlearning,” furthering the thematic emphasis on personal growth and productive retrospection. “This is the unlearning,” they continue, referring to learning anew as gorgeous piano trickling complements the soaring vocal layers; it makes for a poignant message to open the album, which stirs in its willingness to reflect on the past with a new lens, rather than avoiding it entirely — “I’ve been avoidant, it’s time for seeking,” is let out at the mid-point.

While the album embraces piano, there’s still ample room for Kolstad’s signature electronic production. “Things” compels with its thumping rhythmics and vocal-laden synth reflections, with piano infusions in the second half sending chills amidst soul-searching lyricism. “Nothing” also intertwines spacey synths and piano with masterful effect, especially in a second half where melodic vocal creeping meshes with the prancing aesthetical fusion of synth-pop and piano-driven pop. “Sky” continues the glistening electronic implementation with similar success, while “Wind” embraces the pop spectrum with its buoyancy.

Largely though, many of the tracks here enthrall with piano-heavy productions alongside Kolstad’s dynamic, emotive vocals. “Anyone” stirs with its yearning for “somebody,” alongside concise keys, reminiscent of Beach House in the dreamy vocal affections. The tranquil piano work on “Soft” is especially inviting, with the “I’m a broken object,” vocal outpouring aligning with serene piano bounces with strong resonance. “Hard” concludes the album with a sleepy intrigue; lullaby-friendly piano tones lead this enchanting instrumental, putting a final bow on the consistently engaging SOFT HARD.

Mike Mineo

I'm the founder/editor of Obscure Sound, which was formed in 2006. Previously, I wrote for PopMatters and Stylus Magazine.

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