Thy Slaughter’s “Soft Rock”: One Last Triumph for PC Music

By Jude Jones

When PC Music, the luminary label credited with inventing the saccharine-sweet hyperpop microgenre, announced this June that it would be moving away from new releases and towards archival projects, its cult of devotees were unsure what to make of it.

The subsequent November announcement that Thy Slaughter – a collaborative project between PC founder A.G. Cook and label original EASYFUN – would soon release their debut album Soft Rock, their only prior release having been the chirpy, digital-fantasia 2014 single “Bronze” from  “PC Music Volume 1”, failed to offer either mental safe-harbour from or self-evident explanation to the announcement. As per with everything else – however minimal – that Thy Slaughter had until then done, all that abounded were new questions.

Thy Slaughter, “Soft Rock” (PC Music, 2023)

A Halloween Day performance in London at PC’s ten-year anniversary show ostensibly cleared some of the air. Slotted between an electric A.G. Cook solo – for which guests were given 3D glasses to enjoy Timothy Luke’s mind-bending graphics in their most transcendental capacity – and Danny L. Harle’s Ibiza-via-the-Middle-Ages rave extravaganza, Cook and EASYFUN emerged for the group’s debut live performance, adorning their rock-group personas (A.G. Slaughter and EASY Slaughter, respectively) to an uncharacteristically well-furnished stage, and bringing with them a small cavalcade of collaborators to assist in the showing, namely Cook’s real-life partner Alaska Reid and the American pop idol Caroline Polachek.

If PC Music’s project has always been paying a heartfelt, postmodern homage to the industry’s most chronically uncool genres (count nightcore, Eurodance, and happy hardcore among such benefactors), Thy Slaughter’s tongue-in-cheek tribute to the eyeroll-inducing world of indie soft rock seems natural progression, especially given the acoustic-indie disposition of some of Cook’s solo tracks, even if this turn simultaneously strays far from the hyper-digital stylings for which the label is famous.

“Sentence” was the first single released to announce this stylistic departure, however offers more of a soft break at the album’s start, unfolding as a semi-screamo banger hyper-distorted to the edge of intelligibility à la Laura Les’s hyperpop anthem “haunted”, a song which itself very much feels the child of PC’s early-2010s sonic terrorism. “PC Music’s mixes and releases would definitely be one of my biggest influences,” confessed Les in a 2019 interview. She has since gone onto become one of the new figureheads of PC’s hyperpop movement, forming one half of the infamous musical gadflies 100 gecs.

Following “Sentence” on the tracklist is the idiosyncratically quaint “Immortal”, with its poignantly serene vocals – courtesy of Caroline Polachek – and indie rock, American Baseball-esque guitar riffs. Lyrically, the song reads a tribute to a label in its invigorated deathbed throes, dotted with wink-and-a-nod Easter egg references to earlier works: “Blood melting into Bronze / Break the mould, never old, never old, no no.” Indeed, the title itself – “Immortal” – recalls the headstrong words of PC’s retirement announcement: “PC Music Forever”.

“Reign” is a pleasant, well-paced transition track well at-home within Cook’s broader musical corpus and melts into the next collaborative effort, “Heavy”. A breath slower than its anticipatory tracks, it nonetheless retains the maximalism emblematic of the label as British pop princess Charli XCX hammers pointed lyrics over a drone-saturated trap beat. From this tempo change comes a succession of aporic anthems: the glitch-rock ballad that is “Bullets”, a somehow ethereal punk track in “If I Knew”, and “Flail”, which falls somewhere between drain and the ‘hyper-rock’ – those distorted guitar riffs and these playful synth sounds – established by now as the album’s leitmotifs.

“Lost Everything” is the final big-name collab of the album, its lyrics credited to the late SOPHIE, its composition to Hannah Diamond, and its vocals to Wolf Alice frontwoman Ellie Roswell. It is perhaps the most conventionally PC Music track of the lot, ephemeral chimes dissolving into a fluttering synthscape and Roswell’s subtle vocals. Yet it overall feels one of the album’s weaker moments, despite its palpable emotive force.

The rest of the tracklist continues with steady momentum: “O Fortuna” has some surprisingly (or, perhaps, unsurprisingly) avant-garde string-work reminiscent of Slint; “Shine A Light” feels the most emotionally-charged of the album’s tracks, despite the simplicity of its lyrics; “Don’t Know What You Want” feels its most authentically rock, its ambient grunge and tortured lyrics conjuring – which is strange to say about a PC song – the likes of Nirvana, Dinosaur Jr, and Pixies; while “Fountain” truly feels like an end: deep piano, sombre vocalisation, and sentimental lyricism that risks bringing a gentle, waterdrop tear to any listening ear:

“Look into the water / Saw you looking back / I could feel you in the patterns / The ones I lack.”

It is at times painfully easy to imagine to whom lyrics like these, scattered across the album, are devoted. SOPHIE lives emphatically on through Thy Slaughter and the rest of the PC Music label: through the words she wrote and the sounds she innovated, but also the new words, the new sounds she has inspired, that she continues to inspire, too: “It was water from the fountain / She drank and she was young again.”

For a label enveloped in its own undoing, or perhaps, more optimistically, its own archival reinvention, a transition into heady historicity as PC’s big names now adjoin themselves to even bigger ones (Cook was nominated for a Grammy last year for his whole in producing Beyoncé’s Renaissance, EASYFUN has taken a leading role on several Charli XCX projects, and Danny L. Harle was recently credited with co-producing Dua Lipa’s “Houdini” alongside Tame Impala), Soft Rock is a triumphant death spasm, staying true to the original ethos of PC Music while recontextualising its work completely: indie soft rock, refracted through the wistful, boundary-shattering, world-building maximalism of Cook’s imaginary. A world he seems ready to at last leave behind. “Seafoam blue / I looked into your eyes / I thought that I could see a whole new world.”

Soft Rock by Thy Slaughter is available now via all streaming platforms.

Jude Jones is the managing editor at GAY45. He is also a fourth-year undergraduate at the University of Cambridge, whose interests include the literary, visual, and academic cultures of HIV/AIDS in Britain, France, and the USA.

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