When i write reviews one of the common traps I try hard not to get lost in is comparing every new band I review to one of the sacred dark gods of the 80’s and 90’s. It’s a pretty common tactic and lets face it an effective one. It’s easy to associate with what is familiar. Often feels like the world of goth/industrial/darkwave/new wave/ect has pretty much been discovered and artists are searching for ways to test the boundaries of what is possible and find some new ground. I figured I would take a moment to acknowledge this is a reality for a lot of people.
Band: A Covenant of Thorns
Album: Shadows and Serenades
Label: A Handful of Nothing
Members: Scott-David Allen
Mastered: Gordon Young
So this review is for a wonderful band A Covenant of Thorns which was a late release of 2018. I was lucky enough to get an early copy and have got several listens in the last few weeks. I feel like “goth” music has always had certain concepts or tones that are really getting broken down by a lot of new bands in the scene. One of the things that stood out to me so much in this album was its romantic dark beauty. That feeling in goth of lace, velvet, tortured anguish of love from afar. Such an integral idea associated with the goth movement which the music has seemed to somewhat move on from. Shadows and Serenades is rich with these concepts and since it just isn’t heard as much it made the record sound so fresh. Allen is an amazing song writer and these pop hooks are done with a clarity and quality of production that builds weight to the songs and gives a seamless flow between tracks. It’s not a dynamic album, the feel is very much an even and measured voice. Again I found myself impressed with how effective this was because as a song writer this would be so difficult for me to make drip with emotion and passion like he does.
His voice is a rich, lovely and full of silky crooning. It was stripped down and left bare to the listener. To stand alone against the expertly mixed keyboard swells and driving drum loops. His lyrics were true masterful poetry which rings with clarity and heartbreak. When you have a great vocalist that sings with sensitive beauty it is a true seduction of the listener. That’s how I felt when I heard his voice. It has some tones of Martin Gore. That other side of Depeche Mode too often overlooked. Yet it has it’s own unique quality which made the songs sound very personal. I feel like the singular tempo and feel of the songs really gives you a chance to focus in on the words being sung. Because the lyrics need to be appreciated for themselves. This might be too much info but it has become my favorite bubble bath and bottle of red wine all to myself album. My private treat to me I share with no one. I highly suggest you share it with yourself.
I had some standout tracks I felt really spoke to me:
Torn in Two – The opening track has an upbeat dancy feel reminiscent of New Order technique, with beautifully crafted keyboard leads. Then you hear his voice for the first time and it is transported to a dark and expressive place. “Street lights cast the shadows frozen in time, you don’t want it all you just want whats mine” Gorgeous, the breakdown totally changes the tone to a brighter feel. Masterfully done.
An Open Letter – This is a dark minimalist builder. With simple and elegant keyboard tones. Breathy and shadowed vocals that speak of empathy for someone facing great loss and regret. Then at about 1:16 a new drum beat comes in and adds a tension and pulse to the same gentle feel. Again the work of a song writer who is using craft and experience to create a lovely experience.
The Distance Between us – This is the album closer. Things take a sinister turn here. The vocals come at you through a veil from miles away. About a dying friendship and feelings of betrayal. It’s such an expressive song for an accessible theme so many have felt. Huge keyboard swell for the chorus which gives both hope and defiance. Leaving us on a high note for the future.
Overall this album is a breath of fresh air by using masterfully crafted modern technique and hearkening back to the ancient truth of goth music. A time of beauty, tragedy, darkness, and romance. Song after song tugged at my heartstrings and pulled me back in time for when everything just felt stronger and more intense. I highly recommend taking this journey with Scott-David Allen.
Band: Crying Vessel
Album: A Beautiful Curse/Illusions
Members: All songs written, produced and engineered by Slade Templeton of Crying Vessel.
All Lyrics by Slade Templeton.
All songs vocal recordings were assisted by Chris Geissler.
All songs written, recorded, produced at Influx Studios (Bern Switzerland/Berlin Germany).
This is an exciting review to write, I have been wanting to talk about “A Beautiful Curse” for a while now but I have been holding off in anticipation of Illusions coming out. I’m glad I waited because now I get to write my first two album combo review and I don’t think I could have chosen a better band than Crying Vessel. Crying Vessel began as a project between Slade Templeton and Basil Oberli as an art concept that found legs and has grown into some of the finest post punk/Synthwave/dark dance fusion coming out and spreading it’s dark wings across the world. It takes a lot of what is familiar and beautiful about classic dark music and infuses it with a jolt of electricity and sizzle.
Lets start with “A Beautiful Curse” the full length album that first introduced me to Slade’s magnificent crooning style. This album is rich in touch point synth pads and whip crack drum beats. It’s medium tempo music but unlike it’s roots it plays on the front edge of that beat giving it life and drive. Delay heavy flicker guitars give the songs a post punk feel while Slade uses the clarity and beauty of his voice to soften the edges of songs full of tension and desperation. I love when a vocalist has the swagger to put himself front and center over already great music and Crying Vessel knows how to make use of it’s greatest strengths. The songs on this album have a personal voice. They use a lot of dynamic motion pulling instruments forward and back to make you sway with them in this moment.
A Beautiful Curse is just that. These songs are aesthetically pleasing to the ear. At the same time so full of dark themes. The album is strong track to track and doesn’t throw anything away. You really hear a lot of isolation in these songs. Where some post punk has a definite “city” feel this album conjures such a feeling of separation from the world moving around it. That serene feeling of beauty and sorrow kept drawing me back to the title.
So many absolute can’t miss tracks on this record but I will choose a few:
Dig Deep – I hate to be on the nose and choose a single, but this song is such a jam it can’t be ignored. It’s razor movement and star point keyboard sounds. The drums on this track are so crisp and resonant of Depeche Mode (Black Celebration). Each beautiful line delivered in a cascade. Try not to dance to this.
Killing Time – This turns the speed up to make a more 80’s new wave feel. Slade takes his vocals into the higher range. “Poison mind, killing time” Again those simple keyboard lines that fill so much space. Martin Gore would be proud.
Trust me – Taking it down a notch this gentle builder lets Templeton use a whisper to draw his listener in like a snake charmers whistle. Again that great dynamic keyboard pan and heartbeat drum sound. This song is a tempter song. A dare to fall prey.
This album is a truly visionary compilation of styles and feelings that fit together with The rich passionate vocals and wonderful sense of timing. That timing from song to song really sets it apart. However I also want to discuss the wonderful contrast it has with the new EP “Illusions”
So something I feel has been sorely lacking in darkwave/post punk music lately is pizzazz, taking all that works well in driving bass lines and accent keyboards and then hits it with the old razzmatazz. The showmanship, the slightly over the top emotion in the vocals that doesn’t cross over into cheese. David Bowie had it, Roxy Music had it, and now Crying Vessel has tapped into that glam show that makes these songs feel like an epic production of visual stage show using only music. It’s a little extra breath in the voice, an extra millisecond holding the note, a dueling guitar with different levels of echo right out of Reeve Gabrels playbook. This EP made me swoon, and it did it in 3 songs. I was left longing for more and hope that Slade pursues this style further. For a lot of bands taking a little edge off and turning up the croon could take away from the dark sound he established. This album does quite the opposite. It found another step on the ladder and I couldn’t get enough.
All that is Real (Featuring She Pleasures Herself) – Here those Cure style guitars take us back to the forest and ask the question if love is real. It’s gorgeous, it’s accessible, and it brings that swagger. It ends on a note that leaves me begging for more songs.
What an eye opening wow follow up to an outstanding album. This is a must have for any fan of the dark music genre. I am extremely excited to see what Slade and company have on the docket for us next.
Band: Push Button Press
Album: Spectacle 1
Label: Cold Transmission
All tracks written, recorded and produced by Jim Walker/Push Button Press.
The new album Spectacle 1 by Push Button Press came to me courtesy of Andreas Herrman of Cold Transmission. I feel like everything Andy has been backing in the post punk scene has been an automatically must hear album and this did not disappoint. Hailing from Tampa Florida PBP has created a complete concept album which uses dynamic and crisp songs which expose themselves in a fearless and genuine manner. These are the songs of a painter creating images with texture and sound. The music has a city feel. Hard concrete and sharp angles. This music breathes and expands with life, but shadowed by a dark tone and stark realism of it’s challenging depth.
Lets talk about what stood out to me in this album. I related so much to the vocals and the lyrics of this album. Jim is not trying to sound like something he has heard before. I feel the authenticity of his tone and emotion. This is an album where the voice you are hearing is not someone trying to create an image or previously created sound. It is a artist laying himself barren with his glory and flaws in a heroic bareness. His cadence is emotional but within a contained timber. While these baselines bellow and creep with a heavy and driving force. The Guitars striking and feinting in a icicle dagger dance. Creating such a roller coaster of volume and intensity. Those rhythmic vocals maintain their tone and desperation. A lot of the album strays into different genres like Mire and The Sea’s dance club beats but those vocals are what never lets this album escape that concept of a post punk landscape. That constant contrast and mental challenge are what adds such expressiveness to this album. The songs are not fierce enough to attack you outright, but instead are peeling talons that strike away at you in subtle ways.
Jim is on a journey back to the music scene in this album. The album drips with that sense of the experience of a life lived but the bright fresh eyes of someone discovering a lost love all a new. This was a theme I kept feeling and found so relate-able.
Transfiguration – Ok so I just spoke on how the even and metered vocals on the cadence on this album was the rope that tethered this albums to a single concept defined this album, but this opening track flips that on it’s head. It’s a brighter, cleaner, prettier vocal concept. “Because its over now, everyone has left, got here just in time to see the party end” This is a bass driven city hope song that sets the story of the record.
5’C – Harpsichord, who uses harpsichord in the modern age to break a melody line. Here the vocals hit that familiar flood of melodic dark attack that ties this album together. That tinkling keyboard line creates such a contrast that drives your mind to a sped up motion of isolation and escapism.
Mire and Sea – Again the script is flipped into a lilting ballad at home with New Order technique but with a Peter Murphy artistic croon in the vocals. You have heard all these ideas before but not at the same time. That striking sense of what is familiar with what you haven’t heard is a beautiful step forward.
Overall this album is full of substance and retrospective depth. It is a wonderful blend of familiar themes and dangerous synthesis to create an unnerving sense of sinister discomfort and welcoming nostalgia. It was an easy first listen and a challenging deep dive. Scrape the surface, unlock the mystery. Find what you can in this multifaceted experience.