Fascination

by The Birthday Massacre

Consistently haunting along the dark wave scene since 1999, Canadian band The Birthday Massacre has recently released their 9th album Fascination. Having dropped on February 18, 2022, the entire album is a beautiful marriage of the ethereal vocals of it’s lead singer, Sara “Chibi” Taylor and the dark synthetic sound that the band is so well known for.

Fascination delivers a similar feel to the bands prior albums that came before, and this is not something grounded in the negative. A continuing, slow evolutionary sound that they have spent time mastering through past albums such as Hide and Seek, Imagica, and 2020’s Diamonds. The tracks of Fascination alternate between slower paced, more romantically themed songs, and a harder, darker sound that would be easily at home echoing out over a goth clubs dance floor. I don’t think I’ve ever found a musical talent whose sound so perfectly corresponds to the art of their album covers. Fascination “sounds” like being led into mysterious new surroundings by some fae child under a violet hued night sky.

Amplified Live Official (@amplivetx) • Instagram photos and videos

It’s title track, Fascination, starts out with the twinkling of keyboard keys, popping into existence like stars at night, before the rest of the song envelopes you with Chibis vocals extolling her new obsession. It sets the thematic feeling of the album overall and is a powerful starter. Dreams of You, One More Time, and Once Again are more romantic in their subject matter, hitting on both love found and lost while Cold Lights, Like Fear, Like Love, and Precious Hearts each come on stronger, and are far more likely to be deployed from a DJ’s arsenal.

A few stand out songs – Stars and Satellites is definitely one of the stronger tracks, and while starting out with a slower beat, boasts some powerful guitar riffs and Chibis vocals help paint a celestial soundscape. My favorite ballad is it’s closing one, the aptly named The End of All Stories. It’s the slowest piece on the album, something I am oddly predisposed to in most cases, and brings together all the good elements that the band has to offer to allow a slow fade out for the albums end. The beautiful vocals, powerful guitars, and those wonderful synths which for me play off a nostalgia for bygone eras of music. I miss the 80’s and am grateful that it’s sound lives on in albums like this.

Altogether, Fascination will offer fans of The Birthday Massacre another lovely helping of everything that made them fall in love with the band in the first place. Yes, it does tend to sound a great deal like what came before in their discography, but if something isn’t broke why try and reinvent it? Putting this album on will net exactly what the world could use more of – beautifully gloomy music being performed by beautifully gloomy Canadian musicians.

You can purchase the album on bandcamp.

https://thebirthdaymassacre.bandcamp.com/album/fascination

By James Kelly

PlayPlay

VR SEX (Live at The Casbah – San Diego, CA. 3/24/22)

All Photos: Christopher Shawn Strong

FULL DISCLOSURE: I’ve had a woody for this band since the first time I heard ‘Surrender’ and have been geeking out on their sound ever since. So when I found out they were launching their U.S. tour right in my San Diego stomping ground, everything else went on hold for a night.

VR SEX is an all-star band comprised of  Noel Skum (Andrew Clinco of Drab Majesty), Z. Oro (Aaron Montaigne of Antioch Arrow/Heroin/DBC), and Mico Frost (Brian Tarney). On this night, the band performed as a quintet with Noel on guitar and sharing lead vocals with Z.

The information I could gather about this LA band was a bit sparse, so I’ve just kept my ear to the ground; figuring/hoping they’d make their way down south eventually. Happily, the tour coincides with the release of their new full-length, Rough Dimension, but more on that later.

https://vrsex.bandcamp.com/album/rough-dimension

Opening the night was Oakland’s Marbled Eye. They have great musicianship with a rock-solid rhythm section. One thing that confused me, though, was when certain pre-recorded musical parts suddenly came from out of nowhere. It seemed out of place. Despite that, they seemed to win the crowd over. I look forward to seeing what comes next from this dynamic quartet.

https://marbledeye.bandcamp.com/

By the time VR SEX took the stage, the venue was about two-thirds full. I was worried as, when I arrived, the place was still quiet with few people hanging out. It just goes to show that The Casbah can usually be counted on for a good time, even on a Thursday night.

I was amused that the band took the stage dressed identically as Mormon missionaries – complete with the LDS name tags. Z. hit the ground running; a non-stop bundle of energy as he danced, swished and shimmied on the stage as though he was having the time of his life. The rest of the band were tight and solid. Noel stood stoically on guitar; his towering stature totally dominating stage left. Their “wall of sound” approach was a bit dialed back from what I heard on the recordings. That was probably the band having mercy on the soundman. Any minor nit-picking about the sound could be easily explained away as the band playing their first gig of the tour and have not yet shaken the bugs out.

What amazed me most was the precise powerhouse drumming that fueled the whole experience. Early recordings utilized a drum machine. But this live lineup is as intense and powerful as any show I’ve seen in recent memory. Every song they played was a delight – even the songs I wasn’t familiar with. This was truly one of those sublime live experiences that reminded me of why I go to so many shows.

After the show, I was tempted to ask the band for an interview. But, as I had not bought the new album yet and wasn’t up to speed, I didn’t want to look like an idiot. So I just settled on a few handshakes and attaboys and was on my way. The new album, by the way, will be the subject of my next installment.

As VR SEX will be on tour through April, you should do yourself a favor and check them out when they come to your town.

Riki Paints Broad Synthpop Soundscapes With Sophomore Record ‘Gold’

Riki

When nothing feels new, we as humans reach for the old, extend a hand to what is comfortable and safe. Nostalgia reigns supreme as a result, as creators try to strike a balance between those creature comforts and a new monster altogether. In the synthpop and post-punk worlds, this struggle is pervasive, but making it look all too easy is Los Angeles songstress Riki. On her second record Gold, what was old is new again, as Riki takes a bold step forward in an institutional genre. 

“Lo” starts things off sonically in the late Eighties, especially in the quieter verses with a swelling, chime-laden chorus. The bassline is hum-worthy on this infectious opening track, before sliding into goth rock territory on “Marigold,” which might be my personal favorite track on the disc. It rides the line between bouncy and moody, maintaining a danceable rhythm with gliding synth licks. “Oil and Metal,” the instrumental intro in particular , wouldn’t have sounded out of place on Depeche Mode’s Violator, but while the track calls back to more familiar melodies, the shimmery synth work is what gives that recognizable tune a fresh coat of paint. The structure of the dueling vocal lines, one talk-sung and one emphatically crooned, is a nice nod to the song’s title as well.

The chilled-out, dub-informed “It’s No Secret” is a cloud walking number, with delay-steeped guitar interludes and a minimal drum part. It’s one of a handful of tracks with a smooth sax lick, giving a big city feel to this otherwise ephemeral song. “Sonar” is vocal-forward with a plucky bass groove. It is here that we see Riki’s full vocal range, be it her singing us to slumber or urging us closer to that old haunt. On the subject of old haunts, the opening to “Last Summer” is as post-punk as we get, with tubular bass lines and the odd chorus-tinged guitar moment. Aside from “Marigold,” this may be the most radio-ready, “puts the ‘pop’ in synthpop” track of the album.

Within “Viktor” lies the very definition of grey sky guitar, though the song is a synthpop number first and foremost. There’s a stirring beauty about this track, a reverent admiration of sorts. The final two tunes, “Porque Te Vas” and “Florence and Selena” are just fun, the former for its Latin flavor and hypnotic vocal melody, and the latter for its retro-futuristic flavors, and the return of that swinging saxophone. All told, we make our way back around to that Eighties synthpop flavor we began with, but the song is far from the same.

If her sound is this dynamic and sweeping on only her sophomore outing, imagine what Riki can do in the future. Gold is a joy of a record that must not slip under the radar of an avid synthpop fan. There is plenty to dance to here, but there’s perhaps even more to get lost in on a first or second listen. It’s fresh, and for a style of music that has one super-prominent touchstone or point of reference, that is nothing short of an achievement.


Gold is available now via Dais Records.

My Brother Got me a $100 Bandcamp Gift Card For My Bday! What did I get so far?

It is like the whole goth community got a birthday infusion. I am on a reckless spending spree of new music. Here is some of what I am listening to right now. As always if you have a band you want to see reviewed, comment below.

Lyres Of UrEscape From Modern Man – New single from our talented young contributor Lou Blacksail with cover art by Joshua McCallister. I continue to be impressed by the passion and vision of this young songwriter. A raw and bass driven wind tunnel of echo’s and sinister carnival keyboards. I can feel the snarl curled lip in every delivery. Sometimes when I hear a mix that has a raw feel, I am taken out of the moment. In this single that way different aspects charge to the front adds a boldness and bravado. I feel like this is an artist the shines with potential and leaves space to grow. The emotion and natural intuition for form and hook are unmistakable. I am more impressed by everything I hear.

https://lyres-of-ur.bandcamp.com/track/escape-from-modern-man

Suzi SabotageNazi Goths, Fuck Off – With everything facing our scene I am amazed no one has released a track like Finnish siren Suzi Sabotage that takes the blunt power of a barb wire baseball bat that attacks the worst aspects of goth with unbridled fury. A slinky dark synth build with a razor edge message that pulls no punches. The new generation of goths demand an anthem of political passion and Suzi has delivered. A perfect punch the masses can rise behind. Nazi Goths Fuck Off.

https://suzisabotage.bandcamp.com/track/nazi-goths-fuck-off

Precious BonesMAGNA FRACTURA – I love the name, the concept, and sound of New Jersey barb wire rockers Precious Bones. Antoine Poncelet & Guy Tetro unleash an Iggy Pop/New York Dolls late 70’s chaos venom. A tight coil of front edge intensity and pulsing electricity. I love the call and answer style of the vocals which put me in mind of the Vaselines. It flows through the pipe of uplifting joy and angry edge. This whole album is such a runaway stage coach sparking cobblestones in a tight alley chase. The organic slicing fury mixed with dangerous violent stories that has a real murder ballads feel. I love how this tale keeps changing speed and turning. I never want to look away. Horror punk with a retro feel. August 2021 release. This album is dedicated to the memory of founder Guy Tetro, a tragic story and impressive release.

Favorite track: Mysterio – Thick pulsing baseline. Start and stop reckless abandon. The vocals are the perfect volley of story telling dialog. It’s engaging and edgy without trying to sound that way. It’s one of those tracks that hits perfectly on it’s intent while the listener is left feeling it was a perfect storm with no destination in mind.

https://preciousbones.bandcamp.com/album/magna-fractura

StoneburnerSpectrum – Another face blistering hurricane wind blast from Steven Archer. This time taking a revealing and visceral offering about mental health to offer connection through the turbulence. I love the wide prism of colors in tone for the single and remixes. When I think of Steven’s sound I use words like focus, contrast, and intensity. This track is a softer and varied concept which shows range and subtilty. The bsides Bahr Bela Ma and Open Letter redirect back to the percussion assault and rhythmic chant vocals I associate with Stoneburner. This unity with COP International continues to let the wolfcore off the chain and give a fertile field for raw creative energy to foster. John Fryer has once again found a laser prism to channel the emotion of Steven’s art.

https://stoneburnerofficial.bandcamp.com/album/spectrum

CarrionShatter the Seals – New two track EP on Brutal Resonance from the charred angels of Carrion. I love the new direction. The monster is no longer lurking in the darkness, it’s sinister intention a slow whisper behind your back. Now the monster is charging towards you full speed with teeth barred and howling your doom. The vocals are a striking snake hiss. The drum beats are frantic and marching. Biggest of all this guitar distortion is clean, mean, and red eye glaring at you. The seals have truly been shattered and the demons unleashed on this plane. I’ve never heard Hide lash out with such unbridled intention. Buy this album, bath in blood, smash your meaningless possessions with a baseball bat.

https://brutalresonance.bandcamp.com/album/shatter-the-seals

Ratio StrainCentury Of The Self – San Diego band I am just finding from the drummer of W.A.S.T.E. This release came out in January 2020 but i am glad to discover it now. 8 songs of mind shattering hard industrial which is going to hurl a challenge in your face like a gallon of moonshine to the eyes. The vocals are sample laden and I will admit made me blush several times. This is music intended to cause discomfort. It’s also slick tight dance beats that had my head bopping while I stood in fear and awe. The panning of the drums was an expertly done effect and really makes the room spin to the napalm explosions. You think, you dance, you shake, you break.

Favorite track: Objectify – This song made me wildly uncomfortable and unnerved. A real blinding light held up to the misogamy prevalent in he world. It is not a soft message and hurled with such strength and aggression it left me speechless. (Warning) Not safe for Work 🙂

https://ratiostrain.bandcamp.com/album/century-of-the-self

VlimmerMeter b​/​w Kartenwarten – Alexander is back again, with a new two track EP and again stretching the range of one of the great sonic sculptors of our time. This is shake your ass club thump. The open expansive feel of the synths, the thunderous driving bass, I couldn’t help throw my hands in the air. Beautiful syncopation and vocal cadence. Track one Meter has a Blondie Atomic energy while pulsing in hues of violet and crimson.

Favorite Track: Kartenwarten – The glorious sway and slide of this track. I’m on a cliff staring at the sea, feeling the slow shifting power of dark water. So many textures and concepts bleeding together in harmony. A true work of beauty.

https://blackjackilluministrecords.bandcamp.com/album/meter-b-w-kartenwarten

Lorelei DreamingFuture Fables – Long have I awaited this 6 track EP complete with wonderful remixes by Chicago dystopian pop princess Laura. It’s so clear and textured from their previous release. Laura’s voice breaks through the wall and takes it’s rightful place on center stage. The album opens with an absolute banger in Of Stars. I’m loving the rippling synth sounds to add a fantasy feel. Each song is a striding step forward for an armor clad paladin facing down the demons surrounding her. This album was so worth the wait and every song is an adventure. The remixes are a brilliant contribution with the likes of Kanga, Sawtooth, Eva X, Angel Metro, and more. I love seeing so many top tier ladies involved.

Favorite Track: To Leave This Heaven – Sparkle explosion of dance delight and spinning cyclones. A real Violator Depeche Mode swagger with silk swirling gentle touch.

https://loreleidreaming.bandcamp.com/album/future-fables

Actors – “Acts Of Worship”

There is a shift that has happened in modern music, of how music is released. A focus on speed and constant content of singles in the streaming world. The art of tension and anticipation between releases has become an artform which has fallen by the wayside. In 2018 Actors released “It Will Come To You”. It captured the imagination of the scene which propelled them as a modern voice for a genre based in nostalgia. Three years later that title that won over new wave of Post Punk/Synth fans has come to ring all the more true. The slow gleaming trickle of singles leading to the promise of a sophomore album have fallen like individual raindrops on the thirsty tongues of their growing fanbase. The addition of a new bass player Kendall Wooding adds another element to the chemical reaction. The patient crafting of new songs which hold that emotional connection, while growing in complexity and range. The story of Actors has always been one of communication and relationships within the human experience. “Acts of Worship” elevates that connection to explore the spiritual macro concepts which bind us together.

Acts of Worship | ACTORS (bandcamp.com)

Kendall Wooding

Going to do something a little different for this review because I am so invested. A song by song breakdown of my impressions:

Love U More – A delicate symphonic intro that opens the curtain. Jason’s voice is sorrowful and and ripe with longing. The chorus is a perfect way to display this fresh sound of collaboration. A true harmony of individual styles. Shannon’s vocal’s fire forth with a confidence and balance that leaves you looking up to the sky. I love the clear heavy footed walk of the bass. The flickering electric street lights of the guitar lead. This track is here to set the scene. To re-introduce beloved characters and place them in a new adventure. The most striking aspect is how much the concept of the song feels uncharted. The genre is familiar. The style distinctly Actors. The texture and melody feels like the future. Something we have yet to hear.

Like Suicide – It can be hard to separate an artist from art. When people hear “The Joshua Tree” by U2 these days the first thing that pops to mind is a Bono joke. The impact that album had with it’s ballads in particular. A voice so dripping with mystery and unfettered passion. A romantic beauty in a time of consumerism. That lost concept is what stirs within me in this soul barring heart dancer. It’s a catchy croon that glows with soul. That place where what is pleasing to the ear and painful to the heart go to share the struggle and triumph of life.

Cold Eyes – A forceful driver of city lights blurring as a they pass by the passenger window. Love this overlapping guitar part between muted crunch and crackling lead. The singing has a voices in your head surrealism. A hallucination effect that leaves you questioning what is real. I think this song has a classic Actors feel which helps connect “Acts of Worship” to “It Will Come To you”. This is the preservation of continuity song.

Obsession – This song felt personal for me. We all have felt this isolated time to dwell on people or things we are missing. Swirling shadows in the water, violet hues and reflected neon light. Jason’s voice takes on that airy Ian McCulloch beauty. Letting you sink within your own destructive thoughts and lose yourself between the water and the mist. One of the deepest most revealing moments of honesty. This song in particular felt like a real look behind the bands eyes.

Photo by Pedro Santos

Death From Above – What a glorious tone shift. I found myself transported like a World War 2 fighter pilot blazing towards a synthwave animated landscape. The hook and harmony of this track is captivating. The strong down strike percussion that personifies the aerial assault. The record player effect of the vocals enhanced the vintage feel to create a sharp contrast against the digital soul of the music.

Killing Time – Strong opening of magnetic fuzz on the guitars. The shifting polarities kept me bouncing around the room. The last two years has seen time slipping past us. Days bleed together and we need to force ourselves into these moments. I love the tension breaking shouts of “Hey” to stir a unity and freeze frame. An anthem to stop the push and pull of life and hold us in this moment until the pull sends us back into a volley. I am impressed by the ambition of this track. It pulls off the difficult task of complexity without sounding complex.

Photo by Pedro Santos

Only Lonely – The bouncing funky bass line of this track has huge John Taylor emotions. Jason swings into a husky whisper on vocals. A secret that pulls you in and sets you up for the call and answer chorus. A much brighter and meringue peaked dessert tone. The lyrics still deliver a pang of longing to add shape and depth to one of the most tender fashion walk singles on the album.

Strangers – Another engulfing single on an album full of singles. Strangers hits on all cylinders. The lyrics paint a picture in beautifully blended water colors. The music is that razors edge of expansive synthetic beauty and sizzling rock energy. I feel like this is Jason’s strongest vocal performance. Utilizing everything he does well at it’s highest peak. It is decisive, emotional, and resonates with a concept which relates and challenges. This is the type of powerful track lost in the modern age full of poetry and delivery. A true modern classic. My top track on a top album.

End of the World – A nice tension building intro for a cosmic journey watching the world grow small. The radio announcer crackle effect on the vocals creates weight and acceptance of a world slipping away. That progressive keyboard line pushes to center stage and sets the tone of emotional longing for La petite mort. As life hurtles towards uncertainty we take a journey of acceptance. This was one of the most musically powerful tracks. A haunting tone of post apocalyptic hope in a desolate moment.

Photo by Pedro Santos

Once More With Feeling – The ending of a journey of one of the most complete records of the modern era. To say it leaned into the epic and expansive is an understatement. This song has a true OK Computer emotional range and scope. We have witnessed the end of the world, but are left with a resurrection and resilience. To push on, to survive while towers of magma shoot into the sky of a new world. I love that instead of going out on a single, instead we are played out into a promise of future adventure. A glimpse on the horizon of a world to come.

Acts of Worship” Is going to change the standard. Rather than think of it as an album out of time. Hear it as the type of puncturing emotional thought pieces we talk about as nostalgia from a previous era. I choose to see the hope it promises. To be a place where those that remember the past, and those that are blazing new ground in the future meet. Where they say this was the moment where the music we talk about twenty years from now with a new generation is remembered. It’s a powerful feeling that you can be apart of now.