Secret Shame, “Dark Synthetics”

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Secret Shame
Dark Synthetics

North Carolina’s Secret Shame have recorded some very driving and energetic goth rock for their debut LP Dark Synthetics. While often tagged as a post-punk act, their sound has a lot in common with the UK acts that drew on early goth’s pub-rock and glam influences, with a dash of American death rock for flavour. The results are good in all the ways straighforward goth rock can be; the songs are dramatic and camp in equal measures, with urgency and plenty of atmosphere slathered atop.

The heart of every song on the LP is the rhythm section, which pairs fast, punky bass playing with rumbling drums that roll forward and create momentum and rhythm guitar for extra muscle. Spiny lead guitars are then mixed to pierce through the din, reinforcing melody where needed, and setting up vocalist Lena’s forceful contralto. It’s a solid recipe, and in practice has a ton of versatility: “Comfort” feels like a pumped-up version of an early Cure track, where “Creature” has a nervous, chattering vibe, its fast tempo providing lift for big vocal spikes and short blasts of guitar notes.

The back half of the LP shows the band slowing things down somewhat, allowing a little more room in the mix for breathy keys and the opportunity for Lena to explore the upper register. “Haunter” and “Calm” show the band moving at slower speeds without losing any of the tightness or drive of their more aggressively paced tracks. The former is especially good, inserting big drum rolls and male backing vocals to match Lena’s more ethereal approach. Closer “Storm” splits the difference, slowly building to a burst of noisy, squealing guitar and triplet kicks, intense and brooding in contrast to its sanguine opening.

At under a half an hour in length, and with most songs clocking in between 3 and 4 and a half minutes Dark Synthetics is the work of a band who have figured otu what works for them and how to present it in a digestible package with no wasted time or effort. Efficiency in delivery without sacrificing mood and liveliness is nothing to scoff at, and is a big part of what makes Secret Shame appealing; they come across as a band with no time to waste, and lots of effort to get across.

Buy it.

Dark Synthetics by Secret Shame

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Null Device, “Line Of Sight”

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Null Device - Line Of Sight

Null Device
Line Of Sight
Distortion Productions

Wisconsin’s Null Device are proof positive that synthpop is a far more nuanced musical style than most of its die-hard recreationists or recent converts often take it for. Seventh LP Line Of Sight is very much a continuation of 2013’s heartfelt While You Were Otherwise Engaged, and if anything finds an even more affecting blend of direct songwriting and elegant arrangement. By availing themselves of whichever sounds from synthpop’s now substantive archive suit the song or mood at hand, Null Device have crafted the rare record which has a minutely calculated style of production and instrumentation but still puts core songwriting first.

Pre-release track “The Smallest Thing” pointed towards a sober and contemplative style which we expected to be carried forward on the record given the precedent of Otherwise Engaged. And while it’s true that Eric Oehler and Jill Sheridan’s vocals tend to cleave to a fraught and reflective mood throughout, using just one track to extrapolate the whole LP’s shape was an error. Line Of Sight‘s sheer range of sounds and styles both from within and without the broadest definition of synthpop is nothing short of staggering. Compare the tights and furtive pulse and static of opener “Run” (full disclosure: “Run” first appeared on a compilation released by this website a year ago) with the plush darkwave excess of “Let You In” with the slick futurepop groove of “Four Lines Across The Moon”.

Better yet, check just how much is woven into LP highlight “So Bizarre”: its house piano and synthbass bounce point to mid-period New Order, but the haunted vocal delivery and its extended lyrical gambit of rendering the political personal feel entirely of Null Device’s own design. We’ve heard countless bands from across the genres we cover at I Die: You Die attempt Line Of Sight‘s catholic approach to pop right out of the gate. But in truth it takes all but the most preternaturally gifted of musicians years and years to find a way to have songs as seemingly different as “Skaftafell”‘s symphonic post-rock sit alongside the clean beats of “Heartbeat In The Noise” and still sound like honest expressions of a single band’s ethos.

From beginning to end Line Of Sight excites the listener with a constantly shifting bevy of sounds while subtly reiterating the earthy and emotive songwriting it ultimately rests upon. The entirely pretty and wistful closing number “In Love With The Bad Idea Of You” does both at once by having its instrumentation perfectly mirror the ambiguity of its lyric. Its shoegaze guitar and far-away chimes speak to the quixotic and romantic indulgence Oehler’s narrator acknowledges, while a straightforward drum loop pulls things inevitably forward to their conclusion, for better or worse. In a lesser band’s hands a song like this might seem trifling or naive, but Null Device add just enough grit to the sentimentality to keep things from entirely drifting away. It’s a masterclass in balancing sound and theme, and exactly the sort of thing which makes Line Of Sight a fantastic payoff for decades of dedication to craft. Highly recommended.

Buy it.

Line Of Sight by Null Device

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We Have a Technical 282: Prematurely

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A Split Second

A Split Second try to ward off mambo witch hexes.

How does A Split Second’s …From The Inside buck that band’s reputation, and is The Legendary Pink Dots’ Nemesis Online the perfect capper to their 90s period? We have opinions, to no one’s shock, in a classic two albums episode of We Have A Technical. All that plus some discussion of the just announced Dead Can Dance tour and Throbbing Gristle reissues this week! You can rate and subscribe on iTunes, Google Play Music, or download directly or stream from Spotify or the widget down below.

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Tracks: October 15th, 2019

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Was anyone else torn, as we were, by the pricing of Dead Can Dance tickets this past weekend? Truth be told, admission wasn’t all that steep for an act of DCD’s vintage and popularity, but the dichotomy between seeing Brendan and Lisa perform for a now firmly middle-aged demographic in a plush theatre and checking out three or four up and coming acts at a dingy art space for a literal tenth of the cost says something about how Our Thing has and hasn’t been subsumed into broader culture. Are these disparities reflective of difference of aesthetic accessibility, or is it just a matter of sticking it out until your audience becomes sufficiently old and bourgeois to be able to shell out the big bucks? A possible topic for a future podcast, perhaps, but let’s cut through the navel-gazing with this week’s tracks.

Vore Aurora Tora Tora Tora

Christian Death, “Spiritual Cramp (Creux Lies remix)”
Cleopatra records has been making money off of Rozz Williams-era Christian Death remixes since time immemorial, a practice that has yielded both club gold (see the Lights of Euphoria remix of “Sleepwalking”) and straight garbage (see most of the rest). We’re happy to have Creux Lies deliver a version of “Spiritual Cramp” that sticks the landing, with a big propulsive bassline, spooky keys swirling through the mix and a terrific interpolation of the chorus. If Cleo is gonna commission these mixes, they should all be this good.
Spiritual Cramp" Halloween 2019 Version by Christian Death, Creux Lies

Vore Aurora, “Slate”
Reliably great American darkwave from Vore Aurora, a band we’ve rapidly come to expect good things from. Like the tracks on last year’s excellent Eidolon the song is carried by rich electronic bass and Alizeh Dahl Winter’s tremendous vocals, but we’re hearing some more rich and timbral sounds in the mix. It’s a substantial song that feels much bigger and grander than it’s 4 minute run-time would suggest. You can get the track on a forthcoming vinyl comp from Spain’s Oraculo records, up for pre-order now!
Ride The Wave III V.A. by VORE AURORA

Spectres, “Northern Town”
We’ve been able to witness the progressive emergence of a more elegant and harmonically driven side of Vancouver peace punk heroes Spectres via live shows over the past couple of years, and the band’s finally on the brink of unveiling that new iteration to the larger public. The flip-side of forthcoming single “Provincial Wake” showcases all of the dreamy yet explosive melody and emoting they’re jamming into their new work, all in under four minutes.
Provincial Wake by Spectres

C/A/T, “Broken Trust”
Ben Arp’s return as C/A/T after a few years away has been welcome. Having cut his teeth as a producer of rhythmic noise and hard-edged industrial sounds, Arp has brought a lot of the atmosphere and groove of his work in the decidedly different Corvx de Timor back to his most well-known outlet. The result is a track that bangs as hard as you would expect, and has the scraping texture, but also grooves hard and builds out some wider atmospheres.
Broken Trust by C/A/T

Worms Of The Earth, “Meeting The Great Sorcerer Thoth”
Don’t let the excellent revisiting of his rhythmic noise work or the throwback aggrotech project Venal Flesh fool you: Dan Barrett of Worms Of The Earth is still pushing his core work forward into ever more arcane and theosophical corners. The just-released WotE LP Netjer looks upon first pass to be an intriguing hybrid of ritual dark ambient and surprisingly accessible melody, all swaddled in top-notch atmospherics. We’ll have a full review up shortly, but dig in for yourself with this number.
(ZZS 040) Worms of the Earth "Netjer"Available in Digipack Edition & High Quality Digital Download by Zazen Sounds

Syntet, “När jag mår som bäst”
Via a second-hand recommendation from the boys in Container 90, here’s some tight and melodic Swedish minimal synth. The current project of veteran EBM/industrial experimentalist Tomas Zackarias Westberg, this number zeroes in on the lithe and poppy sensibility that makes so much SwEBM irresistible to us, with an especially stripped down style. The PR copy suggests parallels with the earliest of 242 material, and we’d have to concur.
När jag mår som bäst / Monotoni by Syntet

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Observer: Figure Section & Madrelarva

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Figure Section
aufnahme + wiedergabe

The fun of a release like Spectre is in examining how a new project presents themselves. For their debut three-track release Belgian project Figure Section focus on a bass-heavy and dancefloor ready iteration of darkwave that speaks to some broader sounds in the dark music spectrum. Title track “Spectre” is a hell of an overture in that regard, mixing a tense arrangement of analogue synths and snappy drum programming, propelling deep female vocals with a heady immediacy. Even more desnse is “Disfigured Section”, where fuzzy bass and drums reminiscent of millennial electro are drowned in a rich syrupy reverb that lands just on the right side of excess, samples and other percussive elements emerging and then retreating into the audio murk. Closer “Slick” offers an interesting view into the project’s broader vision for their sound; instrumental save for some rhythmically arranged vocal samples, the rhythm track speaks to both techno-industrial and body music sounds, with sinister pads floating above busy cymbals and snappy snares. The potential for a more substantial LP is certainly suggested on Spectre, but there’s more than enough merit in these three songs to justify it as a release unto itself.
Spectre by Figure Section

Madrelarva - Oro Naciente
Oro Naciente
Cønjuntø Vacíø

Spanish producer Julio Tornero’s Madrelarva project focuses in on a restless combination of dark ambient and pure sound design. New LP Oro Naciente is rife with phase shifting and swirling pads which might be mistaken for being spacey were they not so temperamental. Even amidst the loping drones and looped minimal rhythms of “Anhedonia” there’s something restless and uneasy in the mix. No matter how slow or repeated Madrelarva’s phrasing is, it never quite settles down. Sure, one could interpret the soupy ambiance of “Emanaciones” as speaking to a blurry and spiritual ephemerality, but the industrial drones and wheezes which bubble up out of the murk point to emanations of a more chemical and toxic manner. That it simply cuts off after nearly fifteen minutes with no progression or resolution adds to its stymieing effect. One could indeed even question whether the seemingly arbitrary run time of the compositions is yet another means through which common ideas of structure and catharsis are thwarted. The one exception is the closing title track, yet another lengthy piece which slowly adds some trepidatious harmonies and wet yet processional percussion, offering some scant grounding in time and place.
Oro Naciente by Madrelarva

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Bedless Bones, “Sublime Malaise”

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Bedless Bones
Sublime Malaise
Cold Transmission Records

Sublime Malaise, the debut LP from Kadri Sammel as Bedless Bones belongs to the school of aloof, European darkwave. Where records of that genus often walk a line between lush intimacy and steely resolve, the Estonian project resolves the tension between those poles within the LP’s songs, giving the album an energy born from synergy rather than conflict. That unity of mood and execution is Bedless Bones’ biggest strength.

The synthesized compositions that make up the instrumental skeleton of Sublime Malaise are built up from a solid foundation of quantized drums and synth bass delivered at mid-tempo. There’s a rigidity to the way the rhythm track pumps on “Limbs Entwined” and “Sad and Alone” that works in their favour, with mechanical grooves that are possessed of both energy and robotic precision. “Drifting” goes slightly groovier and ends up sounding like the crossover goth electro-industrial sound of the mid-to-late 90s, bringing acts like Diva Destruction and Claire Voyant’s more upbeat moments to mind. The sound design palette has a coolness to it across the board; the space between sounds in the mix and the chilly nature of the pads and leads contribute to the reserved tone of the proceedings.

That sort of restraint runs the risk of sounding detached and dispassionate. It’s Sammel’s vocals that do the work of injecting feeling, colouring the mood of the songs with shades of desire, melancholy and fervency. Like the instrumentation, Sammel favors a deliberate and articulate delivery, expressing emotion without going over the top. It’s a finely controlled balance that she manages ably; she expresses a dignified yearning between synth strings on opener “Nemesis Unborn” and a subtly shaded ennui on standout “Where Is My Voice”. There are a few moments that do suffer from how measured she can sound – the gentle balladry of “Losing Control” feels guarded to the point of disaffection – but by and large it works in the record’s favour.

It takes a few listens to Sublime Malaise to really get Bedless Bones. Which is not to say the album’s first playthroughs aren’t enjoyable, but that the specific way that Kadri Sammel never tips her hand as a producer and performer gains power with successive listens. A number with the thick and proximal sounds of “Heavy Words” gains strength through familiarity; the tiny gaps in its impassive facade slowly revealing what lies behind. Those brief moments of closeness are Bedless Bones’ stock and trade.

Buy it.

Sublime Malaise by Bedless Bones

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