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The Northwest of the United States: home to The Soft Hills. For the music fan, the area has always been a wellspring of pure joy. Punk was invented there in the 1960s (The Wailers, The Sonics), Jimi Hendrix was born there, K Records, one of the most influential indie labels of all time, was baptized there, then came Sub Pop, Mudhoney, Nirvana. But where there is light, there is shadow. So excellent is the music that has emerged to conquer the world from Seattle, Olympia, et cetera -- and so dreary the weather. Rain and more rain. It can dampen your spirit and damage your health. This painful experience is all too well known to Garrett Hobba, songwriter, singer, guitarist, and mastermind of The Soft Hills. Soaked through from continuous precipitation, his room began to molder, with the result that Hobba fell seriously ill. After several hospital stays brought no relief, Hobba gathered his belongings and headed down to Southern California for a few months of recuperation, a change that can be heard on the new record. Departure convinces through contrasts that can be clearly linked to the different geographical conditions: the harmonies and colors of Southern California on one side, and the dark, monochromatic light of a rainy day in Seattle on the other. Golden light here, then shadows. A kind of sad euphoria. On Departure Hobba disposes entirely of the Americana leanings which have characterized the previous albums, allowing European influences to become more apparent. These include Syd Barrett-era Pink Floyd, Brian Eno, and the Factory Sound of the early '80s, which might be due to the fact that Hobba started to write the songs during a several-month stay in Europe. The instrumentarium was supplemented by Mellotron, Moog, Hammond B3 and a Rhodes piano. Departure is a monolith of an album, an album of contrasts -- unlike its predecessors, yet unmistakably The Soft Hills. Hobba is simply an excellent songwriter and his voice unmistakable. The album was mixed in London by no less than Abbey Road veteran Guy Massey (Spiritualized, The Beatles, Manic Street Preachers). So what is the best way to listen to Departure? Hobba: "The best situation is probably to listen to the album on vinyl with headphones alone in the dark or lying on your back next to your best friend with a good stereo and a bottle of opium."