This is a review for Sombre and it was a tough one to write. A lot of styles and voices were reaching to be heard on “Lindsey”, many sounds from song to song that it didn’t fit easily into a particular box. This is an band that wears their influences on their sleeves but those influences run the spectrum of all varieties of dark music. I find this lack of focus to be refreshing. There is a real sense of searching on this record. Some of the songs hit immediately right out of the gate, some of them fill me with longing for the possibilities. All of it stirs something in me and leaves me longing.
So lets talk about what I hear. This album sounds so clean and beautiful. I think as a scene that the trend in modern dark music is to pile layers of slush and effect just because we can. Sombre has the execution and production of a surgeon. It’s quickly apparent that a producer is also a member of this band. The hooks are very welcoming but the concept is simple and exposed. Cedric’s vocals are a deep and rich cadence that keeps within the melody and holds the structure together in almost the way a lot of bands use the bass line. He also has an effortless dare I say aloofness in the timber and cadence, it feels refined and existential in it’s delivery. I really enjoy the blend of Dead Can Dance, Depeche Mode, and most of all Killing joke for the sheer variety of sound. However what I like the most is the addition on modern Alt J trip hop texture slither mixed with panning orchestral synth pads.
Musically the feel is very retro and full of builds and tension. I feel like this album has another gear it is waiting to hit and I look forward to what that sounds like. The bass lines and percussion are crisp and driving. They flow forward and aft with Cedric’s vocals to create a frenzied and harried dance. I think the sound more than anything is hard to pin down which is intriguing and keeps me wanting to dive deeper. This album always feels like it is running somewhere new and that motion is what builds the excitement.
The lyrics lean more towards an expression rather than a metaphor. I found it easier to relate to for this. I am really finding a lot of appreciation for the freedom of a totally independent release. Again the subject matters really stretched from the romantic to the societal power dynamics. One thing that tied them together was the genuine nature. Where someone tells you their story directly from their hearts without anyone to answer to. That’s what captures me here.
Stand out Tracks:
Find the Light – This has that Duran Duran pop chorus and layered harmony with a Happy Mondays dancing bass line. The song has a lot of builds and falls. With Cedric’s rich warm vocal tone crooning in a sensual and charismatic verse just to be offset by that large build chorus. Silence burns holy night removes the veil from your face.
Black Twin Skins – This has an 80s almost prog feel that reminds me of everything the Church did well. It’s very dynamic but the layers pull and push to create movement. The vocals come way to the front and are very exposed. Cedric’s singing finds a way to carry the rhythm and the breakdown is a masters course in how to fill within a pop hook. I love the guitar solo for this song. Very slush 90s shoegaze. “We are to young to remain alone, the fear chills us to the bone”
The Master – What a non sealant effortless groove. This song slithers for lack of a better word. You can feel it moving back and forth through you. These drums are shadowed and echoing reminding me again of Happy Monday’s. I love the whispered echo vocals.
Lindsey – The title track stands above all others. This beautiful harmony with a second higher voice for the perfect capture of everything Sombre is bringing to the table. The lifting and lovely voice is dancing on top of Cedric’s rich baritone. The pop hook chorus is one that locks your mind up and repeats. The strange reversed vocals mixed with the heart beat drums. Just a complete anthem of artistic expression and accessible pop sensibility. A +
Ok I have taken a bit of a hiatus from writing reviews prepping for a show but when Jason Corbett calls me out to review what is one of the most important new albums of 2018 I better crack my knuckles and get in front of my keyboard. When I first heard this Vancouver based band I was spell bound. Transported in time and enthralled by the sheer cold razor coolness of this record. It started really blowing up and I suppose I just felt like Actors were so good they didn’t need me to write about them as much as other new bands. However to not express what this album meant would be a disservice. This record cooks from front to back with throwback sounds, perfect precision and continuity, while lyrically bringing a fresh and modern take that resonates with everyone I play it for. Do you know how Ian McCulloch is a once and a life time sound that no one can really capture ever again? When I hear Jason Corbett I hear a young Ian crooning out effortless expressive lines that wrap you up and transport you. I’ve mentioned many times in reviews being a singer myself I always hone in on vocals first and Corbett delivers a sonic artistry of wide scope and emotion that makes every song feel like an intimate performance just for you. Not to understate his guitar work, when I saw the Actors live in Detroit I was blown away by how he shredded. The guitar lines while fitting in the post punk sound have a jagged edge. He was also wearing a Slayer shirt when he played them.
Musically this album is diverse in a way so missing from “Post Punk” today. It changes in tone and scope from song to song. Everything blends together in one story but just like a complex character in a novel it is full of intricate parts. Hemmett is a maestro of subtle brush stokes in the synth sounds contradicting the sharp moving guitar parts. They build, fall, and create movement. Russell has studied hard at the Martin Hannett school of using the bass as a percussion instrument to drive these songs and feed life. I remember being surprised how large a bass he plays live, but sometimes to get the big sound you need a big instrument. They are dark and bracing and surround you in the motion of a chase scene after a heist in a bright lit city on a cool night. Fink uses a crisp snapping drum sound that builds a foundation for the constant movement and swirling parts. I can’t remember the last time a record felt so much like a beautiful sound track of a film that was never made. You can’t help but conjure images of these songs in your head. It’s a magnificent effect which continues to grow every time I listen to it. Actors are not creating a brand new sound here, but they are playing at a level of quality in their synthesis of glam, post punk, electronic, and new wave that you feel like new ground is being broken. I’m truly awed by what is accomplished here and I am not alone.
So now we have reached the hard part,
how do I pick standout tracks on an album that was meant to be
absorbed as a single flowing piece. It’s not singles here. Every cut
is a deep perfect cut. Ok , self, be professional, I’ll try.
Face Meets Glass – I suppose if there is a “single” this is it. Such a lush and vibrant song in a dark tone. Here you can definitely hear the Echo and the Bunnymen comparison. It’s just slick city streets, black leather jackets, the coolest girl in the room dancing alone. If Ian McCulloch, Peter Hook, Iggy Pop, and Gary Numan were hanging out at a club in Berlin at 1:47am this would be the song they would listen to.
Let it Grow – Here the Post Punk edge is let off the chain. This bassline is as thick as a slow river. An elegant builder full of background guitar and stabbing single note keyboards that just keep getting layered as the song progresses. Flavors of New Order smashing Technique into Movement. Why did no one think of this before?
Slaves – All these days that you fear, there’s no god, only what you had to offer. Holy shit this is a burner. The simple slashing guitar riff, that bassline that just rolls over you like a Mack truck. I could hear this song 200 times on repeat and it would never lose flavor. It drives on the edge but in a medium tempo. This is the song I want to play while doing a jewel heist in a black turtleneck in New York while the revolution begins. (Note:Since writing this review I have definitely listened to this song more than 200 times)
Overall this album is a true modern day classic. It’s ambitious, perfectly executed, and full of homage. Actors are leading the charge in a Neo-Renaissance of dark wave music. If you don’t know about this album yet you need to get it immediately and be in on what is becoming a movement in modern music. Find this, love it, hold the vinyl in your hands and spin it many times.
Wait, there is more? Yes our own Rachel Pool got a chance to do this insightful interview with a Jason who we love dearly.
(Rachel) Explain, in ten words or less, the music scene in Vancouver.
(Jason) It’s a thriving hotbed of talent.
(Rachel) What made you choose the name, ACTORS?
(Jason) It felt just interesting enough. All the good names were taken and Duran Duran Duran was too long.
(Rachel) Does that name allow you some security in your songwriting? Was it by intent to create a lyrical fiction? How much of your songs are written from life experience?
(Jason) A name means less and less as time passes. It’s not something I think about. All the songs are written from life experience although it’s not 100% autobiographical. Sometimes you just need a visual and a good rhyme.
(Rachel) Describe the original formation of Actors. How did musicians of your talent level come to together into one singular vision?
(Jason) We are all friends first. It just made sense for us to fall together with ACTORS. We respect each other and everyone has something special to contribute. I couldn’t do this with just anyone.
(Rachel) Bands of brothers and sisters: what do you argue about most, as a band?
(Jason) We don’t really argue. I snore so I’m pretty sure the others members have wrestled with the idea of holding a pillow over my face in the middle of the night.
(Rachel) How do you feel about remixes? Are they necessary to band networking? Is it comfortable to have other bands interpret your music, and how do you deal with what you may feel is an inaccurate rendition of your song, or indeed one which may have captured the spirit/leitmotif better?
(Jason) I’ve recently started doing remixes for other artists again. It’s fun. I haven’t had anyone remix an ACTORS song since the first single Post Traumatic Love. I don’t think they are “necessary” but I do love to hear different interpretations of songs. Sometimes a remix will be better than the original.
(Rachel) If you could have any band/musician remix one of your songs, who would you choose?
(Jason) I would love to see what David Lynch would come up with. Maybe he would just light one of our records on fire and record it burning.
(Rachel) How did you find music? Did you grow up with musicians, or did a certain album or artist inspire you to create music yourself?
(Jason) It was always around. The radio and music videos on tv. Bowie was the first big inspiration for me. Ziggy Stardust > Let’s Dance > Scary Monsters, in that order.
(Rachel) Your album has been considered by many to be one of the most important releases of 2018, does this shock you? What is a best case scenario of what you want to accomplish in 2019?
(Jason) I wanted to believe that if enough people heard these songs that the album would find an audience. I had learned to temper my expectations over the years so the reception this time around was initially hard to believe. Best case scenario is we keep touring and continue to create opportunities to connect with more and more people. We plan on releasing our next full-length album in 2020.
(Rachel) There has to be at least one of you who is a Cat Person™ . Freyja Six Beans(our cat) sat on our computer desk and had to be forcibly removed several times while we were playing your album. How can you explain your animal magnetism?
(Jason) You’re very intuitive. We love cats. I’m sorry you had to forcibly remove Freyja Six Beans on our account. Can animal magnetism be explained?