Liam Brown, the Liverpool-based songwriter and producer better known as Pizzagirl, released his debut LP, first timer, in October 2019 - a time that now feels like it was a decade ago.
It was a splendid first record, and, more importantly, it was a prescient one: the album’s exploration of disappearing into whatever screen you’re in front of for comfort or connection was something we were all more or less forced to do to work or stay in touch over the coming year.
With softcore mourn, Pizzagirl’s excellent sophomore album, Brown’s still endlessly fascinated by an always-online culture. Now he’s using that lens to explore how it affects breakups, which is to say: being surrounded by screens can make it more difficult, if not outright impossible, to heal or move on after a relationship ends. The album is littered with can’t-move-past obsessiveness like “It’s the one-take mugshot selfies I’m needing / The old texts that you sent that I’m reading” and “Why can’t I stop pretending? / Will you now stop unfriending me?”.
The album also functions as a breakup record in general, and it’s here where we get some of Brown’s adroitly snide humor: “You kissed your plastic surgeon / With lips I know he’s working on,” “If I had a pound for every time you told a lie / I’d buy a condominium and say a real goodbye to you,” and “You should get Best Supporting Actress / When you’re on the mattress / ’Cause that’s some David Blaine shit.”
And to sell this rancor, Brown has decided to match the music to his (often-)dispirited lyricism here, trading first’s ’80s Top 40 worship for softcore’s careful recreation of 2000s indie and blog-rock darlings. Instead of borrowing from Peter Gabriel, INXS, and Depeche Mode, he paints with the colors of MGMT, Kid A era Radiohead, and Wilco. The result is a more personal and insular record, with intelligent arrangements lead by synths, acoustic guitar, and heavily processed vocals that build and climax like four-minute films.
Softcore mourn, then, is a more fully realized work than first timer. The latter felt more like a collection of songs than an album, partially because of the myriad genres attempted or borrowed from, and partially because the lyrics were largely story - or character-oriented. You could enjoy individual tracks because of their immediacy. Softcore, on the other hand, seems like it’s meant to be consumed as a whole. Strong hooks and melodies are still present - “car freshener aftershave,” “by the way”, and “moreno” are as hummable as anything Brown has done thus far, and the latter is one of the strongest melodies from anyone this year - but they don’t necessarily hit as commercial jingle earworms like their predecessors. Instead, they may take a few listens to sink in, but once they do, they stay with you - kinda like heartache after a breakup.
Speaking of which, the record’s cover raises an important question: is the computer that Brown is hugging like a teddy bear replacing a relationship that’s ended with a person, or is it that his relationship to the computer - that is to say, digital technology - is what’s ending? When the album’s over, it’s not clear. What is clear is that Liam Brown - as a stand-in for any and all of us - needs to unplug and/or step back when faced with rejection or failure. Softcore mourn may not offer much in the way of advice or answers in that regard, but its venting of frustration works as an effective balm until you do.