Archive for the ‘The Soft Moon’ Category

The Soft Moon — Deeper

Wednesday, April 1st, 2015

Darkwave is one of those musical genres that’s less about technical quality of the music and more about basking in sombre, lush soundscapes. Sure, there are unifying features: depressed vocals, heavy bass, and cold repeating synth lines feature prominently in most successful electronic-goth bands. But these are merely tools to replicate a bleak, mysterious, and identifiable sort of atmosphere or energy. That’s why the gothic look is so important to fans and performers of the sound; it’s all about maintaining an illusion. The downside to this aesthetic approach is that sometimes the individual aspects of the music are neglected. This isn’t usually a problem, but minor infelicities become major brakes to your immersion when you notice them, pulling you outside of the fantasy usually generated by the music. The Soft Moon’s latest album Deeper, released last month on Captured Tracks, is a fantastic example of the right way to do darkwave, but it suffers from a fatal flaw: the lyrics, when you hear them, are extremely hit-and-miss. Darkwave bands aren’t usually known for their wordplay; acts like Deine Lakaien or Project Pitchfork lacerate the English language on a regular basis, but still manage to produce great music that’s immersive and emotionally enjoyable. But both of these bands are German. English isn’t their preferred language so it’s easy to forgive them for awkward phrases or lyrical clichés. The Soft Moon are American, and should have no excuse. You wouldn’t think that lyrics would be posing them a problem.

The Soft Moon have crafted an increasingly detailed and layered sound with every new release, starting from the relatively simple electronic shoegaze and post-punk of their 2009 self-titled LP, then moving towards the more intricate, comparatively experimental sound of their latest album. “Wrong” sounds a bit like early Nine Inch Nails, with staccato bursts of lo-fi digital synths over heavy post-punk drumming. The lyrics evoke a sense of existential dread: “I’m in control of my decisions,” singer Luis Vasquez offers. “You’re wrong,” Distorted vocals answer. “This pain I feel inside won’t die…” Vasquez continues. The distorted vocals answer: “You’re right.” While the words are few and simple, the dissonant musical maelstrom that surrounds them, driven on by throbbing bass, lends them a sense of power that makes the track feel paranoid and frightening to listen to. This sort of composition is where the album really shines, taking short bursts of words and phrases and building on them until they become something greater than the sum of all their parts. “Being” takes a whispered sample saying “What is this place?” and “I don’t know where I am,” and turns it into the vocal line for beautifully rendered electronic post-punk song, built around the sound of a rewinding tape. And title track “Deeper” does a similar thing, putting jungle drums and sawtooth synths under manic walls of noise and chanting.

It’s dense, chaotic music, a massive evolution in style from the simpler sound of The Soft Moon’s previous albums, though that sound is still audible in stripped-back new tracks like “Far” and “Feel”. But the image shatters when the singer tries to get more complicated with his lyrics, with songs like “Black” and “Wasting” taking away from the bleakness with clear, audible vocals that sound like they’d be more suitable written on a motivational poster. These songs don’t destroy the album, but they come in quick succession early on, taking you away from the bleak illusion maintained by the otherwise awe-inspiring sound of the album. It might not have been a problem if they hadn’t come so early, but Suicide-inspired opening track “Inward” isn’t strong enough to set the scene, and “Black” and the tracks that follow it mean the first half of the album feels a little flat compared the more consistent tone of their previous releases, and the half that follows it.

It’s hard to tell if they’ve always had this problem. Usually The Soft Moon bury their vocals to the point of incomprehensibility in reverb and digital effects. On Deeper, they’re clearer than ever before. The lyrics don’t spoil the album, but they do create a problem – sometimes, not all the time, it pushes you away. You can’t take it seriously, and then the illusion is shattered. This is an unfortunate development on an otherwise spectacular album from a usually reliable band. It’s difficult to know how to feel about it. On one hand, it’s denser and more innovative than ever before. On the other, it’s a little slack around the edges. It’s as good a place as any to start if you’ve never heard the band before, but it might not be as immersive as their previous releases. It feels like they’re at a crossroads at the moment. Do they stick with simple lyrics and keep expanding on their sound, or do they work to improve their lyrics to put across more complicated meanings and emotions? It’s a good album, but not the masterpiece it wants to be. It’s fraying, cracking at the edges. It demands a listen all the same.

Deeper is out now on Captured Tracks.