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Spotlight on: The Soft and the Hardcore by Tender Forever

Cover of The Soft and the Hardcore by Tender Forever Tender Forever, The Soft and the Hardcore

Tender Forever is Melanie Valera, who has come from the south of France to the Pacific Northwest, unleashing her electronic sensitivity in ways that fans of The Blow (Khaela Maricich, who helps out on two tracks) will simply adore. The Soft and the Hardcore, her debut album for K Records, is a selection of short songs -- all but one of them are less than three minutes long -- that offer the kind of self-revelation that fans of Mirah yom tov Zeitlyn and The Microphones/Mount Eerie (Phil Elverum) have come to appreciate.

From the plaintive guitar that begins "Every Monday" to the shouting voices that end "The Magic of Crashing Stars," The Soft and the Hardcore covers a range of emotions, tempos, and styles. Valera slides from acoustic to electronic with ease and manages to make them both her own so much that, unless I was really paying attention, I didn't notice the change.

The short-and-to-the-point opener, "Every Monday," will ring true for anyone who has ever been through a relationship that consisted mostly of long-distance telephone calls. "Every Monday is just the same thing / I have to wait until next weekend / So we can talk and it won't cost you a cent," Valera seems to be complaining, wishing her beloved would shell out some dough, but understanding that "it will be better for your parents."

Hesitant sexuality takes the stage in "Take It Off," which opens with the sound of a shower curtain opening and the water being turned on. The lyrics cover an early stage of intimacy where a couple wants to shower together but doesn't yet want to be seen undressed in from of each other. Sure, it seems silly from the outside, but these things are very important while you're still involved in them.

The rest of The Soft and the Hardcore is just as much an amalgam of personalities that change, sometimes drastically -- from multilayered ("The Feeling of Love") to minimalist ("This is Hardcore"), from potential summer anthem ("Hot," my single favorite track) to soft reminiscence ("Rad"), from wishing someone "Happy Birthday" to thinking about asking someone if she wants to "Marry Me" -- in the space of one track.

The whole album jumps around lyrically and musically like this, but they somehow all blend into a single personality that is wholly Tender Forever (as she announces on the eponymous penultimate track). The only downside is that the CD is over much too quickly, with 12 songs speeding by in 26 minutes -- which is admittedly a bit short for a full-length album. But it's not up to me to decide whether you pay full CD price for half an hour of music; just know that there is a full experience packed in there and that The Soft and the Hardcore will survive many replays as you get deeper and deeper into the mind, heart, and soul of Tender Forever's Melanie Valera.

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