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Tag: goth music

Darkness and Light For December 7

On the dark side, Karla Rose Moheno – whose metaphorically crushing, allusively haunting Battery Park topped this blog’s picks for best song of 2020 – has not been idle since. Most recently she’s lent her mysterious, endlessly mutable voice to While the World Stops, the new single by Grand Flux. Shadowy, drifting industrial-tinged trip-hop is an unexpected new avenue for her.

On the lighter side, the perennially acerbic Dennis Davison, former frontman of psychedelic cult figures the Jigsaw Seen has been putting out a series of catchy singles, including Sensual Summer. Here he hits the high-beams for some hope in an era that’s been anything but sensual and summery for too many of us.

If you want something 180 degrees from that, check out The Guise of Comedy, a twisted, phantasmagorical 60s-style psych-pop gem

Staying on the dark side for the most part, French cinematic duo Abraham Fogg have a new soundtrack to one of the world’s first horror films, Blåkulla streaming at Bandcamp. You thought Blacula director William Crain was just being clever with that title? This score puts a surrealistically techy spin on those old visuals. Uneasily flickering violin arpeggios rise to a brooding dancefloor thump. Starry keys gleam down icily, minor-key stillness wafts in and out. There’s also a wry, synthy, sometimes goofy motorik sensibility here and there. The devil turns out to be an robotic Terminator type, which makes sense in 2021.

The Shining Tongues’ Haunting Debut Album Transcends a Tragic Loss

The Shining Tongues are the surviving members of the Infinite Three, who proved tragically less infinite with the loss of their drummer Paul Middleton in the fall of 2019. Multi-instrumentalists Daniel Knowler and Sam McLaughlin pulled the project together last year, so there are probably multiple levels of grief and angst in their bitingly ornate, often psychedelically tinged art-rock songs. There’s a towering High Romantic sensibility as well as a fluency in dark 80s British sounds on their debut album Milk of God, streaming at Bandcamp.

The opening track, The Idiot Skin begins as Blondie’s One Way or Another with distant Indian inflections; then the band take it into a pouncing, darkly anthemic direction, sparkling with guitars and keys. Botanica in their early years is a good point of comparison.

They shift to slow-burning post-Velvets janglerock for the second track, Buildings. The sense of rage and loss is visceral, and builds to a dirty inferno: it could be New Model Army at their early 90s peak. Behind the shiny brass and keening organ, It Is Fear draws a straight line back to early Wire.

Nourishment is a recurrent metaphor here. Track four, Eating Bread is the album’s lingering, rainswept centerpiece: this time it’s the Smiths in a rare moment of relative calm who come to mind. After that, the band boil up a blend of 13th Floor Elevators and late 60s Laurel Canyon psych-pop in Rice.

They return to angst-fueled acoustic-electric anthem territory in 6/8 time with Natural Slab. The album’s most lavishly orchestral track, Annihilation has a wealth of dark textures: fuzztone repeaterbox guitar, symphonic keys and a lush bed of acoustic guitars.

Swallow Heaven is not a place for dead birds but a desperate, gloomy, gothic folk-tinged anthem. From there the band segue into Humming/Dissolving, a swirling soundscape shedding eerie overtones.

From there, the leap into The Undefiled Absorption of Supreme Bliss, a triumphantly loopy instrumental, is quite a shock. The band wind up the record with Make Us Eat, which comes across as a grim Mitteleuropean take on what Australian spacerock legends the Church were doing in the 80s. Much as 2021 has been the slowest year for rock records since rock music first existed, this is one of the year’s best.

Daxma’s New Album: Unlimited Shades of Grey

Bay area band Daxma play hypnotic, melancholy slowcore, akin to a missing link between Godspeed You Black Emperor and My Bloody Valentine. Vocals serve more of an instrumental than lyrical role in this music, such that there are any here. Their new album Unmarked Boxes is streaming at Bandcamp. Other than the occasional screaming guitar burst or tumbling drum riff, the pall never lifts: if grey is your color, this is your sound. Love it or hate it, it’s hard to argue with how accurately this band reflect the past twenty months’ interminable, oppressive gloom.

The first track, The Clouds Parted begins with a broodingly anthemic, looping piano riff, then the guitar crunch kicks in and the dirge is on, but with more of an opaque My Bloody Valentine feel. The band shift gears to a Dark Side of the Moon clang that grows more insistent yet hypnotic as the bass takes over the melody. The MBV cyclotron returns, interchanging with moments of minimalist calm throughout the rest of the song’s almost fourteen minutes. It sets the stage for the rest of the album’s longer tracks.

The second cut is And the Earth Swallowed Our Shadows, rainy-day guitar loops within an increasingly dense fog punctuated by aching washes of tremolo-picking. It ends calmly and stately.

The grey-sky ambience looms closer and closer to the growling bass riff that anchors the epic Hiraeth: as the tableau slowly unfolds, it’s like Mogwai covering the Cure at quarterspeed. Suadade is aptly titled: it’s more sparse, beyond the interlude where the stormclouds come sweeping past.

Anything You Lose begins with one of the album’s catchiest passages, then the melody and textures grow more densely immersive. The final track, Comes Back to Another Form, contrasts the album’s quietest sections with its most raging, sustained peak.

Moodily Atmospheric New Wave and Lynchian Sounds From Brass Box

Sometimes Brass Box’s album The Cathedral – streaming at Bandcamp – totally nails a David Lynch soundtrack atmosphere. Other times the group totally nail a dark 80s new wave sound. Either way, their songs are catchy and tightly focused, frontwoman/bassist Ammo Bankoff channeling clear-eyed abandonment and despondency over the chilly echo and swirl.

The album opens with the title track, a mutedly galloping Pink Floyd Run Like Hell riff anchoring Neil Popkin and Matt Bennett’s broodingly echoey mix of guitars that explode in a ringing dreampop vortex on the chorus, Bankoff’s searching, anxious vocals awash in the icy mist.

With its resonant, reverberating deep-space sonics and wistful, starry backdrop, the second track, DDM could be the Lost Patrol. Surrender is not the Cheap Trick teen-rebellion anthem but a dead ringer for Siouxsie & the Banshees circa 1982, right down to the watery chorus-box guitar and prominent bass.

They follow the atmospheric, enveloping goth rock tune Latency with the allusively catchy Waves, which rise to some gorgeously Eastern European-tinged vocal harmonies on the chorus. Then they hit a steady, fast new wave groove with Towne, the album’s hardest-rocking track.

The record’s slowest track, Roses, comes across as a dreampop update on the more skeletal material on Unknown Pleasure-era Joy Division. The band go back to Lynchian/dreampop mashup mode with Ivory Skies and close the album with Parting Ways, a song they should have parted with prior to sequencing the record. On one hand, all the sounds that Brass Box evoke have been around for decades. On the other, nobody has figured out how to blend them quite like this.

Bleak Anthems For a Bleak Year From Blackwater Holylight

Blackwater Holylight are one of the most original and intriguing dark rock bands around. They started out as an improbably successful mashup of Black Sabbath and the Cure with a woman out front, then on their second album left much of the 80s behind for a heavier sound. Their third release, Silence/Motion is just out and streaming at Bandcamp. It’s the band’s most straightforwardly dark and quietest release yet, no surprise considering this year’s zeitgeist.

The first track is Delusional: a spare, lingering dirge introduces a venomous, growling, swaying anthem. Frontwoman/bassist Sunny Faris joins forces with guest vocalists Bryan Funck and Mike Paparo for Exorcist gasp-and-rasp over Sarah McKenna’s funereal organ, guitarist Mikayla Mayhew adding simple, single-note leads over drummer Eliese Dorsay’s supple beat.

Faris is a more distant, ghostly presence in Who the Hell, a surreal blend of the Cure at their most gothic and Tangerine Dream, but heavier than either of those two bands. She and Mayhew switch instruments on the title track, Dorsay’s muted martial volleys driving a rainy-day acoustic guitar-and-piano theme toward fullscale gothic majesty, then falling away elegantly.

Imagine Sonic Youth with lithe bass, echoey keys and a competent singer, and you get Falling Faster. Faris and Mayhew exchange axes again for MDIII, a swaying, drifting, desolate theme rising toward gritty dreampop-tinged roar.

Likewise, there’s a late 80s Lush feel in Around You: it’s the closest thing to a straight-up pop song the band’s ever done. The album’s final and most psychedelic cut is Every Corner, built around a catchy, hypnotic raga riff (Faris on guitar and Mayhew on bass) until the band hit an unexpected, increasingly sinister stoner boogie interlude.

Blackwater Holylight are on tour this fall: their next free-state show is January 21, 2022 at Trees in Dallas, Texas, opening for first-class heavy blues/psychedelic band All Them Witches.

Elegantly Melancholy, Wordless Vampire Anthems From Rik Schaffer

Beyond members of the World Economic Forum’s taste for adrenochrome, vampirism usually falls into the cartoon category as far as Halloween is concerned. This year, composer Rik Schaffer has opened up a rich vein of his themes from Vampire the Masquerade: Bloodlines at Spotify. He couldn’t have picked a more appropriate year to splatter the world with this, considering how many hundreds of thousands of people have been killed by the various lethal injections being promoted by the WEF and the Gates Foundation. How serious, or completely cartoonish, is this music?

This magnum opus is all about epic grandeur, punctuated by infrequent portrayals of ridiculousness. This is the uncommon soundtrack that’s also a good rock record. Schaffer’s themes for the game frequently draw on 80s goth, but not in a cliched way. Where innumerable film and video composers embrace chilly synth soundscapes, Schaffer uses guitars for the most part. Sometimes they’re minimalist, as Daniel Ash would have clanged out circa 1980. Other interludes here evoke bands as diverse as Slowdive, the Church and Roxy Music.

Schaffer likes all kinds of icy chorus-box sounds. Loops figure heavily into this, whether a tentative folk-tinged acoustic phrase, a merciless motorik theme, or vast, windswept vistas awash in a chilly mist. In the rare moments when the bass percolates to the surface, it’s delicious. In general, Schaffer’s songs are more majestically melancholy than grim or grisly: a vampire’s life is a sad and lonely one.

He moves methodically through ornate spacerock and whimsical trip-hop with a hint of disquiet, to a gorgeously textured, bittersweetly vamping anthem without words awash in torrents of organ and stately chorus-box guitar. Dissociative atmospherics encircle a goofy dance club tableau. A long return to moody shoegaze sounds sets up an imaginatively flamenco-tinged coda and an unexpectedly Beatlesque outro. Who would have thought that a video game theme collection would be one of the best albums of 2021.

Troubled Music For Troubled Times From Mary Ocher

One of the more darkly intriguing albums to come over the transom here in the past couple of years is German singer Mary Ocher’s The West Against the People, which is still streaming at Bandcamp. It’s hard to think of a better way to describe what the world’s been through since the lockdown began, isn’t it? And the music itself tends to be grim, grey and unrelenting, with a skeletal late 70s/early 80s no wave influence.

The album begins with Firstling II, a shifting, echoey vocal soundscape, drifting further toward desolation. There are two versions of To the Light here: the first with Ocher’s watery, quavery vocals over oscillating organ and a shuffle beat, the second with elegant piano and echoey electronic washes, more evocative of the song’s understated desperation.

Zah Zah, a simple, catchy dub-influenced bass-and-drums loop is also reprised later as a brief electronic interlude. My Executioner is a coldly marching, minimalist no wave march: “We come face to face, my butcher,” Ocher snarls, “How do you deconstruct fear?”

Pounding drums and carnivalesque synth underscore Ocher’s cynical defiance in Authority’s Hold: it could be an early Creatures song. Gritty wordless vocals contrast with blippy synth in The Irrevocable Temple of Knowledge, while Arms is unexpectedly calmer and seems more improvised.

With its pulsing, echoey synth, The Endlessness (Song For Young Xenophobes) could be Carol Lipnik in especially minimalist mode, Ocher’s voice jumping to spectacular heights. Washed Upon Your Shores is even more rustically simple, just vocals over a persistent high bass note and rattly percussion.

Ocher revisits a dub milieu with the spoken-word piece The Becoming, featuring Die Todliche Doris. “It is not uncommon to think of acts of unnecessary violence,” Ocher demurs in this sardonically detailed tale of revenge. Ocher closes the album with the eeriliy loopy Wulkania, a collaboration with Felix Cubin.

Holding Fort with Castle Black in Long Island City

The sun goes down behind a phalanx of shiny steel-and-glass speculator properties close to the water in Long Island City Friday night. On one hand, it’s a good omen to see a loud guitar band playing so close to what on the surface seems to be a high-income residential complex.

But it’s empty. Those condos are just game pieces, hard assets for people who did well in the big pharma boom of 2020 to move their money into before that market tanks. Those boxes weren’t designed for human habitation – rats, on the other hand, should do well there. They make the average public housing project look like Fort Knox.

Speaking of fortresses, Castle Black are the band playing on the back of a flatbed trailer at the edge of the parking lot beneath the empty condos. Frontwoman Leigh Celent’s roaring Fender guitar gives the power trio a punk sound, but they’ve become more of an art-rock band over the last couple of years.

None of the songs in the set follow a standard verse-chorus pattern; one of them is in 9/4 time. Maybe the band name is meant to reflect the labyrinth of bridges in her songs.

This is a new version of the group. Celent is the only remaining member of the original trio, and she keeps taking on more responsibilities. This time out she has keyboard pedals for string synth and organ textures, and that requires a lot of split-second footwork. Most of the time it works. The samples of movie dialogue are extraneous: Man or Astroman worked that shtick to death.

The new drummer is having fun negotiating the sudden metric shifts and tricky changes, saving his furious volleys and flurries for the occasional big crescendo. The new bassist plays a longscale Gibson, with a pick. Like the drummer, he also chooses his spots to go way up the scale as the songs peak out.

Celent’s fragmented imagery tends to be surreal, sometimes ominous or desperate: the punk and the 80s goth influences obviously play a part in that. Between the jangle, and the roar, and the occasional swoosh from the pedals, the sound of the band has come to resemble late 70s Patti Smith more and more, although the rhythmic complexity gives this group a completely unique sound.

There’s tons of new material in the set: Celent obviously went on a creative tear during the lockdown. Radio Girl, one of the more straight-up punk numbers, seems to be a cautionary tale about the perils of fame. There’s another new one, maybe titled Sorry, that has more of late 70s/early 80s postpunk edge. Other songs bring to mind the Breeders. Celent has come a long way since growing up in public, playing the Bleecker Street strip.

The group close the first set with one of their best and most haunting songs, Dead in a Dream. The album version has a finely polished sheen and layers of guitars; this version has a careening danger. The ominousness in Celent’s uncluttered, midrangey voice picks up and they end the song cold.

There’s another set – who would have though that Castle Black had enough material for two sets? Meanwhile, the parking lot is still radiating too much heat to put a beer down for more than a few seconds. Everybody in the band has a tallboy; dehydration is real. From an audience perspective, in this case it meant that time had come to hit the shade, and the train.

Castle Black’s next gig is a very rare acoustic one on Aug 28 at 3 PM at the Greenpoint Terminal Market, on Market St. past Kent Ave on the water. Take the G to Nassau Ave.

Subtle Protest Songs and Dark 80s-Influenced Sounds From Polish Chanteuse Brodka

In a review of Polish singer Monika Brodka’s 2016 album Clashes, this blog called her “an artist who’s found an original sound and is still experimenting with other ideas: may that experimentation continue and find a wider audience.” Fast forward to 2021: Brodka (who records under her last name) has taken her songwriting to a powerfully political new level with her new one, Brut, streaming at Spotify.

How far does she cast her musical net this time around? Clashes had a persistent 80s gothic sensibility, as this one often does. From time to time, Brodka moves forward into the early 21st century, around the time of Goldfrapp‘s heyday, with a similar dichotomy between wounded, ripe vocals and icy, airless, techy production.

Brodka sings exclusively in English this time out, more assertively and confidently than ever. Much of the material here is protest songs, no surprise considering how horrific the body count from the needle of death, and the lockdown itself, have been in Poland.

“Quarantine this heart of mine if I ever come back home,” Brodka’s fugitive narrator insists over a blippy, twisted faux-martial backdrop in The World Is You, the album’s most haunting track. The warpy, melancholy ballad Chasing Giants makes a good segue, Brodka’s voice hitting breaking point over a trippy quasar-synth background.

“Enough enough, capricious girl, you better follow the team,” Brodka intones in the cynical goth-pop anthem You Think You Know. Brodka seems potently aware that the lockdown is first and foremost an attack on women.

Trebly hollowbody bass contrasts with crunchy electro beats in Falling Into You, a pensively bouncy pop song which, beyond its anti-lockdown message, may also allude to the struggle for women to maintain their reproductive rights in her home country.

Fruits, an airy, warped psych-pop ballad, conspicuously mentions a “poison seed.” In My Eyes captures the ache and crushing isolation of the past sixteen months, with subtle dubwise touches. “How I’d love touch your hand in glove,” seems to be sarcastic to the extreme.

With the keys warping off pitch and back again, Sadness, the closing cut, doesn’t seem to have any political overtones. Other tracks are more lighthearted and less impactful. Brodka branches out into an exuberant Goldfrapp-hip-hop mashup in Hey Man. Imagination could be the Cure covering the Eurythmics with a good singer out front. There are also places where the iciness of the production overwhelms the content. Happily, that’s not the case with the protest songs. We need more artists like Brodka.

A Hauntingly Relevant World War I Concept Album From Bare Wire Son

Multi-instrumentalist Olin Janusz records under the name Bare Wire Son. Whether kinetic or atmospheric, his music has a relentlessly bleak intensity. One obvious comparison is the gloomy, cinematic processionals of Godspeed You Black Emperor. Other dark postrock acts, from Mogwai to Swans come to mind. His latest album Off Black – streaming at Bandcamp – is a World War I song cycle, often utilizing texts from journals by mothers who lost their sons. Janusz is a one-man, lo-fi orchestra here: everything is awash in reverb, vocals often buried deep in these slow but turbulent rivers of sound.

The parallels between the Great War and the lockdown are stunning, making this album all the more relevant. Chemical warfare played a major role: poison gas in 1918, deadly hypodermics 103 years later. Propaganda campaigns of unprecedented proportions are central to both events. The drive to get the British and the US involved in the war was inflamed by stories of hideous atrocities on the part of the “Huns,” as the Germans were rebranded. The ubiquitous, multibillion-dollar ad blitz promoting the needle of death also relies on many fictions, from grotesquely inaccurate computer models, to blood tests rigged to generate false positives.

The album’s opening track, Involuntary is a crescendoing conflagration, possibly a parody of a Catholic hymn, with a cruelly cynical coda. Percussion flails out a sadistic lash beat over the organ textures in Cenotaph, struggling to rise against a merciless march that finally hits a murderous peak.

Janusz assembles Saved Alone around a series of menacingly anthemic, twangy reverb guitar riffs and whispered vocals, shifting from a lulling organ interlude to a roughhewn crescendo. From there he segues into CSD, a brief, portentous, organ-infused tone poem.

Simple, ominous guitar arpeggios linger over an industrial backdrop of cello, percussion and organ in Ends Below: the visceral shock about two thirds of the way in is too good to give away. The Gore is portrayed more minimalistically and enigmatically than you would probably expect, resonant washes of slide guitar and organ behind a crashing guitar loop

Close-harmonied organ textures and cello drift through Antiphon, joined by guitar clangs and slashes in The Bellows and extending through the dissociative flutters and funereal angst of Kampus. Spare, Lynchian guitar figures return in Fingernest, an emphatic, pulsing dirge rising to Comfortably Numb proportions.

Heavy Grey is the closest thing to indie rock here, although it reaches an anthemic vastness at the end. Janusz trudges to the end of the narrative with the hypnotic Red Glass and then a quasi-baroque organ theme cynically titled Voluntary, This is one of the best albums of 2021 and arguably the most haunting one so far.