Category Archives: Dark Wave

Cold Cave: Full Cold Moon

Cold Cave: Full Cold Moon - As Cold Cave, Wesley Eisold’s sophomore effort, Cherish the Light Years, was a surprising direction for the coldwave standout–the synth-driven noise experimentations seemed to be completely left behind in favor of a straight 80′s synthpop/dance aesthetic. The debut Love Comes Close certainly had that strain of pop within it, but mingled between tracks full of love-hate tensions, muttered violences like “I will pity you til you’re pretty / What’s a love without some struggle / You’re a slut / I’ll stitch your knuckles up.” Not that Cherish the Light Years is unlikeable–it’s got an insane pop to it, a Franz Ferdinand kind of freneticism, but it seemed to spurn all my favorite characteristics of Cold Cave. Well, Eisold apparently agreed, calling it the “Cold Cave I can’t even stand to hear.” After being dropped by his then-label Matador, he went on to release a string of singles throughout 2013, tracks that solidified his stake on trademark territories, but also saw him adding new districts to his sound.

That Full Cold Moon is a collection of singles rarely detracts from its efficacy. In fact, I came to like the demo roughness, and the uneven production values just add to the album’s status as a reflection of  Eisold’s vagrant year, like we’re looking at a snapshot of his growth. The slight haphazardness also heightens the impact of his more experimental, ambient pieces, which really comprise some of the record’s best tracks.

“Tristan Corbiere,” for example, shocks even more than Cherish the Light Years did, and for entirely different (and undeniably more intriguing) reasons. It’s a three-minute instrumental piece full of slight, wet, tapping beats, overlaid with a flute-like melody and touches of keyboard, altogether like being in the foggy upper-strata of a rainforest. While the sophomore album can incite parties and dance floors on its own, it also leaves you thinking about Cold Cave’s limitations, with the unshakeable feeling that the more digestible direction might signal a dearth of ideas. ‘Tristan Corbiere’ instead explodes your conception of what Cold Cave might be capable of.

Similarly, ‘Meaningful Life’ is a slow, organ-driven piece unlike much of what Eisold’s attempted before. Tenderly and solemnly, he muses on what precisely makes for a meaningful life while interjecting with tangential thoughts about a lover’s memory, the simple image of a tree in her yard. It reminds me a lot of my favorite Brian Eno track, “Golden Hours,” in the lovely agony of sluggish time and the richness of expression. If there’s one time I disliked Full Cold Moon‘s haphazard selection, it’s the placement of skittish dancer ‘God Made the World’ right after ‘Meaningful Life’–excuse me, but you’re dancing all over my brooding space.

Even the throwbacks to straight 80′s pop feel more lively than the somewhat forced drama of Cherish, as in the 90-second taste we get in ‘Young Prisoner Dreams of Romance’, that encapsulates everything great about groups like New Order, from the pounding drum machine, to the intoxicatingly fuzzy synth, to anthemic lyrics like “I could change / Break the Chains / and I will / at night I will think of you still.” ‘Nausea, the Earth and Me’ is a more ambitious take on Cold Cave’s poppier moments, as a six-and-a-half minute epic through seas of choppy percussion and staccato synths that harrow the listener a bit more than it inspires dance moves.

If there is a lull in the album’s energy, it’d be the tracks that feel closer to Cold Cave’s oeuvre, like opener ‘A Little Death to Laugh’, ‘People are Poison’, and ‘Oceans with No End’, but only because they lack the strangeness of the standouts–they’re still incredibly strong, synthy headbangers in their own right, and it bodes very well for the record if these muscular cuts are the weak underbelly. Full Cold Moon might lack the cohesive punch of an album recorded as an album, but it’s still packed with hits, though not in a cheesy best-of kind of way. It covers a very good breadth of textures and moods, and repositions Cold Cave as an act without clear-cut limits… 8.0/10

‘Meaningful Life’

Some Minor Noise: Anachronisms

Some Minor Noise: Anachronisms – An anachronism is “an act of attributing a custom, event, or object to a period to which it does not belong.” Usually this means that something is old fashioned or out of date. In the case of the new album from Some Minor Noise, I believe it can only mean that this is a glimpse into the future. Anachronsims is an angry, emotionally baring look into the mind of its creator and it features sounds and styles that feel new and yet completely ready to be enjoyed.

The opening track, ‘Falling Off’, is disturbing. It feels like your inner voice telling you things you don’t want to hear, like anti-motivational speaking, “when you can’t hold back because all you see is past”. In the second half of the song the tempo really picks up and you might find yourself actually moving to the disturbing thoughts you don’t want. ” “You’re out of your mind” “It’s all in your head”, but that is somewhat the crux of the entire album. There is not one song on the album that won’t leave you at least bobbing your head, but there also isn’t a song on the album that taps into the darker side of psyche.

‘Deadhead’ is an onslaught. The music is as overwhelming as the engrossing as the “passive aggressive affection” caused by the “passion, aggression, attention” manifested by “making you angry then making you want me”. The emotions are high, the tempo is fast, and there’s barely time for the reflection featured in the previous track. The harsh sentiment of “two hearts beat until one breaks” is just awesome and the music is simply spellbinding.

The dance music emphasis goes up a notch for the tracks ‘Organ Pains’ and ‘Tape Experiments’. Both of the tracks are overall much lighter song that the two that preceded them. There is a distinct emphasis on the dance tempo. ‘Tape Experiments’ examines the feeling of being in the middle of a party that’s not quite working out, “the night is young, but it’s getting old…everybody wants to go, nobody wants to go home”

My favorite track on the album is definitely ‘Hitching’. It’s awesome right from the beginning with the sped up sample. It follows ‘Tape Experiments’ perfectly where “everybody wants to go”, how are they going to get there? ‘Hitching’. The constant play with speed seems to have some correlation with the title. “Lost a friend in the translation”.

‘Melting’ is uptempo and another very dance-y song that examines the details of being the other woman. In it the song history and the chorus repeats itself with the only the subject changing. In the beginning she’s in the room while he’s telling “her” that “he’ll be home soon” and that he’s “having a good time”. In the second verse the singer is hearing the same lines. She’s upset and doesn’t want to face the truth, “I didn’t want to face facts, I should’ve seen it coming” He turns it back on her, but her final response is, “If we’re cut from the same cloth, then I’d rather go naked.” ‘Carbon Monoxide’ continues a theme of regret. It slows it down considerably and is all about a “head on collision” that apparently could’ve been avoided. “Going strong among misconceptions” the problems repeat, “same shit, new day”. In the end, “you can’t get away without getting burnt, you’d think you’d learn”.

‘Instead of Showing Up’ features a beat unlike almost anything I’ve ever heard. It’s explosive, jarring, and great. Much like ‘Hitching’, samples and the speed of the samples is used in really interesting ways. The whole song sounds completely creative and fantastic and features an alternative to the actions and pain created in the two songs that preceded it, “giving up on the ground”. It’s not quite, hang in there baby, but it is a solution and anything that sounds this good is worth some consideration.

‘It Never Ends’ continues the audio onslaught theme. The keyboard volume is turned all the way up and fills your ears with increasing passion until the beat drops with an explosion of bass. You’re completely engrossed and if you love it as much as I do, you’re in luck because, “it never ends”.

The final track is something of a mystery for me. It’s a fast laundry list of disturbing stream of conscious issues, “suicidal tendencies”, “mistake apathy for empathy”, “plastic hospital wristband”, “miss, take these pills to help you sleep”, and to “weak to sleep and to asleep to feel” and at the end we hear the line “this is Madison at its best, I’m not quite alive, but I’m not dead yet” repeated. As someone who lived in Madison for a couple years I was left perplexed. I’m sure there’s some explanation, but I’m not sure what it is. Did this Toronto band have a spell in Madison? Who knows, all I know is that, when you’re done listening to this album, you feel like you’ve heard something new, passionate, and great…9.5/10

Perturbator: Dangerous Days

Perturbator: Dangerous Days- I had a thought unrelated to this review that I think applies. The majority of ‘artists’ are really just filler. They’re marginally good enough in talent or technical ability to be on the radio or known in their sphere of influence but don’t really contribute anything truly creative nor do they innovate. You only hear new stuff from them when a new sample pack comes out or the software they use gets an upgrade. They just exist to take some pressure off of the true creators; elevator tunes in between floors. Then there are guys like Perturbator.

Admittedly I’ve been a fan of Perturbator since the first day synthwave entered my life so I was very excited to be able to review his work and yes, I had high expectations. Dangerous Days is an absolute clinic of how synthwave should be done and how to do it well. It’s an intense sci-fi outrun full of ear pleasing melodies, satisfying progressions, and coy nods to some of our favorite bits of retro futurism.

‘Welcome Back’ and ‘Perturbator’s Theme’ are both intro and opening tracks that sort of blend into one aggressive outrun track. Nothing mindblowing just yet, but this is just Perturbator cracking his knuckles and taking a few breaths. ‘Raw Power’ is a glitchy, 8-bit descent into violence and madness that reminds us that video arcades used to be dangerous dens of gambling, drugs and murder, if Robocop 2, Deathwish or The Lost Boys are to be believed. ‘Future Club’ achieves a sound Daft Punk could come up with if they took off the helmets and put on death masks. It’s dark, it’s catchy, and it layers synths that dance very suggestively with each other.

‘War Against Machines’ is a nod to probably the greatest action movie theme ever, but ‘Hard Wired’ is where Dangerous Days reaches its most gorgeous peak. This is a slow, deep synth cruise that features haunting vocals. Yet there are fantastic and whimsical qualities to the track. It’s a darkly sweet love theme, a cascade of stars falling along a nuclear skyline. While that may be my favorite, and perhaps best, track on the album, ‘She is Young, She is Beautiful, She is Next’ and ‘Humans Are Such Easy Prey’ feature all the things I love about Perturbator. There are aggressive drum arrangements, interesting progressions, glitched moments, tempo shifts and quick melodies but also a lot of little things too. Whether Perturbator drops a pad or instrument for a brief moment of peace for a measure, throws in a different snare, or compliments his synth work with a guitar riff or vice versa, there’s an attention to detail here that I’m so impressed with. Perturbator approaches his work like an absinthe maddened composer, seeing and hearing and feeling a galaxy of things all at once and frantically working to capture his vision before it fades. That’s exactly how I would describe Dangerous Days.

The album ends with its title track, which is a twelve minute synth symphony that recalls the days when EDM tracks were considered short if they were less than six minutes. This is an exploration of many themes and it could easily be broken up into several stand alone tracks, but I choose to think of it as the score to a short sci-fi film. Perturbator does have the chops to score a film, or anything for that matter, so I plan on looking for his name in the credits when they decide to make a movie based on Contra or a sequel to Far Cry: Blood Dragon. Dangerous Days is many things: a dark vision of the future, a drive into the very heart of malice, a madman’s scratchings into the wall of synth. But it is also a love letter and a true compositional masterpiece. Now I imagine Perturbator will rest and recharge, and search for new inspiration in a closet of old skeletons, perhaps. Until next he decides to call out to the creatures of the night and lay fingers on keys again, I suppose I’ll have to occupy my time with the ever present filler…10/10

‘She is Young, She is Beautiful, She is Next’

 

 

 

GosT: S/T

GosT – S/T – Within the synthwave genre, below the streets where outrun races, past mountains of synth, beyond the galaxies of ambient sci-fi sounds, light years past all the nostalgia and kitsch, lies a strange dimension of sound and inner vision. It’s a place beyond normal space and time, reachable only through dreams, inhabited by eloquent and artistic, but supremely evil, beings. This is a place where GosT travels to as regularly as a business traveler might fly from LA to NY, but his business is to bring back artifacts made both of supreme beauty and shrieking terror.

To call this EP another entry into the horror synth subgenre would be an insult to the artist. This is a remarkable achievement in both intensity and atmosphere that evokes equal parts of the sinister supernatural and cold mathematical beauty.

‘Ritual’ begins with hard, grating, glitched synths that quickly shift into glittering melodies. There is little time to catch one’s breath. GosT grabs you by the collar and leaps skyward into both chaos and harmony. ‘Cascade’ sets a more mellow tone, but somewhere around the two minute mark, we are again taken down a considerably darker alley. Quiet, calm moments are a rarity on S/T but they make themselves present at strange but appropriate times. Yes, we are in the shadow of the Valley of Death, but GosT reminds us from time to time that flowers grow here, too.

‘Ascension’ may be my favorite track on this EP because of how pronounced and intense the synthwork is, yet towards the end there’s a brief moment of hopeful serenity. It’s the musical equivalent of being on the run from an unstoppable killer, outrunning him and enjoying a moment of triumph, then returning to despair as you realize he’s still hot on your trail. A similar esthetic can be found on ‘Within’ and ‘Horizon’. If there’s a theme to S/T, it’s that we’re not out of the woods yet, but we ought to enjoy our stay while we’re here, or that evil never dies and when things are at their most peaceful is when it will rear its ugly head again.

Moreover, GosT has mastered both the horror synth sound and also the glitched out retrowave sound. Indeed, he may have combined the two with some strange alchemy and created his own little place in the synth netherworld. It’s the work of both ancient evils and sinister artificial intelligences. It’s like watching Terminator endoskeletons dig themselves out of ancient graves.

I think this unique combination will appeal to people outside of the synthwave community, and no two people will cite the same reason for liking GosT. Sure, there will be common threads but I sense so many different influences in the work and they’re pronounced enough that none of them will go overlooked. S/T as an EP stands out, in my opinion, as a watershed record. It will be one that will be remembered as influential, as part of the movement to bring synthwave into the spotlight. S/T as an experience is both a dream and a nightmare and GosT is the pale and mysterious Sandman that reigns in that dark territory. I can’t recommend it strongly enough…10/10

 

Horizon

High Functioning Flesh: A Unity Of Miseries, A Misery Of Unities

HFF_MiseryUnities
High Functioning Flesh: A Unity Of Miseries, A Misery Of Unities – From the very beginning of the album, High Functioning Flesh are attempting to keep the audience off balance. The first vocals you hear are speed-altered and unintelligible, and then a fast-paced beat joined with scream-and-response vocals kicks in. This is something different.

This band knows that there are those that will dismiss them as retro. Their Facebook bio even addresses the situation by dismissing “the swarm of revival, retro and vintage bands” and proclaiming that they wish to “pump your bodies and refresh your mind from the tired beat.” That’s an intentionally bold proclamation to make. While I’m not sure if I want to fully commit to admitting to being pumped and refreshed, I will say that they do feel different, and more than feeling different, they feel cinematic.

Feeling cinematic is perhaps not a novel concept coming from an L.A. based band, but it’s certainly the first place that my mind went. This album feels like a Blade Runner chase scene. I picture rain, lightning flashes, and Rutger Hauer in pursuit with every track. It has the feel of something futuristic while simultaneously sounding as if it could’ve been made in the ’80s and featuring vocals from the late ’90s.

I’ve used the term haunting and ominous before in reviews, but I do believe that ‘Flash Memory’ may be the best embodiment of those terms. Stanley Kubrick himself would be chilled to the bone after hearing the intro to this song. The keyboards appear to be straight from The Shining. An unintelligible voice struggles to be understood, and then without warning a guttural yell kicks the horror into motion and the building tension gives way to the manic horror of a chase scene. The drums are fast and the vocals angrily scream “birth, sex, and death” as the imagery of flashing lights and shaky shots bursts into your brain. Then the horror abruptly returns to horror as manic capitulates to unintelligible as the vocals stop on a dime and return to speed-altered noises.

Following the fast-paced and punishing duo of ‘Flash Memory’ and ‘Rigid Embrace’, ‘Touch Oblivion Icon’ feels like a dance track. There are still super aggro vocals, but the slowing of the pace and the laser gun-style keyboards to give some emotional release and allow the listener to enjoy the onslaught.

When you first hear ‘Self Management’ you’re convinced that a breakdown is coming, but much like the title of the song would suggest, the song is a exercise in delayed gratification. It is nearly two minutes into the song before the beat mixes up and we’re given a chance to get into the meat of it, complete with different lyrics and harmonious keyboards. When it comes to High Functioning Flesh, you have to enjoy the ride as much as the destination.

‘The Deal’ is the harmonious end to the album. The aggressive screaming becomes the backup to the more relaxed singing and they’re telling us, “It’s OK”. Like many good stories or pieces of art the catharsis at the end is much more reassuring. After the horror and pacing of much of the album, the conclusion tells us, “It’s OK to remember”, but still adds the ominous question, “Do you believe it?” “Just because it’s a memory doesn’t mean that it means that much to me.” That can’t pull us in without pushing us away…8.4/10

Flash Memory