Album Review: Soom T - The Louder The Better
by Steve Topple
Glasgow-based Soom T has had a long and illustrious musical journey: from political activism, to Bhangra, via The Orb and Mungo’s HiFi - the ‘Raggamuffin Queen’ is not to be taken lightly. Now, her sixth studio album cements her status as one of the most interesting voices in music.
The Louder The Better, released via Soom T’s own label Renegade Masters, sees the artist bring a veritable smorgasbord of musical and lyrical tastes to the table. The project is a collaboration between her and French executive producer DJ Kunta, with mixing by Mista Maff and mastering by Simon Capony at Basalte Studio. In short – The Louder The Better is a sweeping and expansive project that transcends genres, and covers a multitude of narrative themes.
Eight tracks off the album have all been previously released as singles. Don't Make Me produced by The Wailers engineer Christian Cowlin is a rich and vibrant affair with swaying horns that include an expressive trumpet line complemented by some nice chord progressions on the bridge, where it takes centre stage - albeit with its mute in use. Good Will Come from US producer Terry Vibes progresses the sound. Enter a lilting acoustic guitar against a backdrop of Hip Hop drums (with their meandering kick), but still with some Reggae sensibilities present like bubble rhythm keys. The fluid synth string line is particularly evocative – and the track feels like Nelly Furtado but without the capitalist overtures.
Free The Man, produced by Cowlin, steps things up a pace, taking in some UK Ska sounds with its increased BPM but broken bass line and relentless hi-hats – coupled with some frantic, improv-based horns. Then, Bad Road takes The Louder The Better on another musical trajectory – produced by Dr Bud and reminiscent of early digital Dancehall with its 808 bass that’s elongated, and electric synths.
Michael continues the digital theme – albeit one that was recorded as-live in Brazil - but this time focusing on a modern take on Steppers with its four-to-the-floor kick, pointed breaks, against a backdrop of Reggae devices – along with the occasion hi-hat rolls and snare spins to give the faintest hint of Jungle. Soom T also introduces that experimental choral work she’s known for via her haunting backing vocal line.
Path Of The Wanderer features French producer Tom Fire, who produced the track. It has a deliciously deep, unsettling bass line which is backed by a wandering kick, some stark synths horns, and bubble rhythm keys. There’s some great engineering, including intentional distortion, and Soom T’s main melody is appealing. It feels almost like a throwback to evocative '90s Trip Hop if it had met Reggae – and stands out as one of the album’s best tracks.
No Worries, with Cowlin back on production, completely switches things up – taking the album into some classic, bright, and upbeat Reggae but with some interesting inclusions like a pizzicato (plucked) string line. Fly My Bird is the final previously released track and sees Soom T work again with Vibes across a Reggae-Hip Hop hybrid, cemented by yet more clever chord progressions and some brilliant synths, including pipes, horns, and strings. It’s beautifully done, and one of The Louder The Better’s strongest tracks.
Then, the new material is equally impressive. Prophets sees Cowlin return on production and is a superb, authentic Roots cut – with nice attention to detail on the electric organ line as well as some strong horn arrangement. However, Soom T’s vocal veers the sound to something more soulful, and the persistent kick takes the usual Roots breathing space away to make Prophets a relentless experience.
Fire comes back on board for Ezekiel's Vision – a curious merging of Roots sensibilities across a drum arrangement which has more than just a touch of Soca across the snare line. It’s curious in a good way, though – as it shows the musical inventiveness of all involved, and Soom T’s frantic vocal is particularly inspired.
Like A Dog feels like we’re back in the '80s, thanks to French production outfit Irie Ites – with those synth pad drums rolling in and out across a Reggae rhythm section, and some smart horns. Normal People sees Dr Bud come back for those digital-heavy, '80s Dancehall vibes, while Walk The Earth sees the talents of British DnB duo Mafia & Fluxy come on board. The genre’s influences can be seen in the heavy, complex engineering across the track – like the dampening and low-passing of some of the instrumentation – along with plenty of decay and dB variation. It’s seamless and glorious.
Emergency featuring British artist Sonny Green sees Dr Bud come back on production again (as does that 808 bass); however, here the sound is slightly more complex than just an '80s Sound System vibe, while Soom T’s singjay is quite remarkable – hitting around 10 syllables a second at one point.
Hail To The Watchman throws The Louder The Better directly into 2023, thanks to production from Kunta and Green Teddy – with its Reggae-meets-Trap vibes, here including some tight buzz rolls on the hi-hats, a slightly distorted and rounded bass, along with a frantically-skanking guitar. Soom T is forthright, and the track is modern perfection.
The Louder The Better concludes with the Cowlin-produced There Is Love. It’s a classic-sounding, yet very fresh, Lovers Rock-inspired cut – complete with the musical devices you’d expect, which are complemented by some gorgeous major-to-minor chord progressions, a whining electric guitar, and a complex main melody from Soom T, who here is impassioned yet delicate in her performance. It’s a moving and highly attractive conclusion to the album.
Across all the tracks, Soom T shows just what an accomplished vocalist she is. From the laid-back Pop vibes of Good Will Come – where the focus is maintaining the melodic line – to her pointed, rasping snarking across Free The Man, she can take on any vocal style required of her and pull it off with ease. Her MCing is particularly sensational across the Old Skool Dancehall and Steppers tracks like Michael, where her syllable count per second is preposterously good, juxtaposed with some accomplished choral vocal work.
Lyrically, Soom T is equally at home dealing with the political as she is matters of the heart – the latter present across tracks like the pleading Don’t Make Me, and the album’s conclusion There Is Love which is a thoughtful tribute to someone’s lover. Spiritual tracks also feature, like Bad Road, which is a lesson about choices in life and ensuring you make the right ones in accordance with God, and the two-parter of Prophets followed by Ezekiel’s Vision, the latter about a specific one and his relevance today.
However, it is the political tracks that Soom T does exceptionally well. Free The Man discusses the state’s imprisonment of US political activist Schaeffer Cox. Path Of The Wanderer feels spiritual, but would equally apply to the life of an awoken political activist in the face of the system’s constant repression and the loneliness that comes with treading that path. Like A Dog’s take-down of everyday life under the system is effective, while Emergency furthers this message – compounding the horror which we all live under.
But Soom T also makes the overriding thrust of the album a positive one. Good Will Come’s message of resilience and commitment to living an honorable life in the face of the system’s horror is coupled with No Worries, which implores us to remember "everything will be fine".
Overall, The Louder The Better is an ambitious project from Soom T, which she and her team pull off with aplomb. Musically paying homage to both the past and present, the album refuses to be boxed in, consequently leading to an infinitely listenable experience. Soom T is a highly deft vocalist, and lyrically the project has well-crafted messages. A success all round – and one to be played loud.
Soom T - The Louder The Better
DIGITAL RELEASE [X-Ray Production]
Release date: 10/13/2023
01. Don't Make Me
02. Good Will Come
03. Free The Man
04. Bad Road
06. Path Of The Wanderer feat. Tom Fire
07. No Worries
09. Ezekiel's Vision
10. Like A Dog
11. Normal People
12. Walk The Earth
13. Emergency feat. Sonny Green
14. Fly My Bird
15. Hail To Watchman
16. There Is Love