Now that a have your attention (all credit to my favorite lyric in this album), welcome! Today I’ll be reviewing an album that I instantly wanted to sink my wiener into as soon as it was sent to me.
Male Tears is a synth pop duo consisting of James Edward on vocals and synthesizer and Spencer Jackson on keyboards. The duo makes synthpop that reminds me of Culture Club and OMD mixed with the soundtrack from this SNES game I used to play as a kid called Plok. You see, Plok is this small yellow man throws his fucking limbs at enemies and travels to different islands looking for his flag. Some heartless asshole took Plok’s flag and boy is he pissed off. Well, I’m getting sidetracked here. So let me jump back into this review.
Overall, this is a solid fucking album. Each song has an early impact even though each track is compact. Songs are well structured and don’t overstay their welcome. They pummel you with catchy synth hooks, just the right amount of marimba leads and tickle you with these 80s pop vocals. Also I want to note that the drum programming here is phenomenal. A little goes a long way with drum programming. For example in the song “Let’s Pretend“, the drums are mostly a rock beat with some analog drum flair, but in the pre chorus, the back beat switches from 2 and 4 to the snare hitting on 3 which I geeked out about because it really broke up the flow of the song and kept it interesting.
“Human Errorz” is another example of a synth pop classic that breaks from the albums electro thudding and gives you this off-kittler rhythmically stunning example of what Male Tears is giving you. Some of the drum patterns here remind me of Steve Gadd’s intro to “50 Ways To Leave Your Lover“.
Did I mention hooks? Each song is layered with the classic 80’s production tropes you’d expect and does it so well in a way that none of the tracks feel too busy. You’ll come across thicc Italio-disco bass lines with gated stabby sawtooth chord progressions and glassy pads, but on top of all of that are these absolutely baller melodies that act like those old filters at the bottom of swimming pools. Instead of overwhelming you, they keep you glued to each track. Future X has a hook that only shows up only in the fade out, which I thought was dope.
If I had to pick a favorite from this album I couldn’t, so here’s two. “Creep Distance” is a winner for me. The vocals really stand out in this track and the all around groove made me keep coming back to it. Also it reminds me of that Cars song that plays in the scene in Billy Madison where the principal gives Adam Sandler the card where he says he’s horny. “Adult Film” is also a winner for me and also where the title of this review comes from. This track is so fucking catchy and it has some straight forward erotic lyrics that I’m always a fan of.
Every song on this album is worth checking out if you want retro synth jams loaded with hits and erotic themes. My only critique is that sometimes the vocals get lost in the mix with all the reverb, bit fuck it. Its still a fantastic album. I’d love to see Male Tears put a more modern twist on their next release to keep things fresh as well. This album was released on Valentines Day the cassettes are already sold out, so get some more of those available because I want one.
Part 3 of this series might have been the toughest to write. There was such a wealth of great new albums in this genre I found myself at a loss to pick and choose my favorites. However tough choices need to get made. These are all records released in 2020 and not singles. I feel like everyone on this list did something very profound.
Black Rose Burning – Open the Gates – George Grant is doing amazing things using stripped down elements of dark post punk concepts. His voice has this scintillating David Bryne expressive lilt. It harnesses such energy with an acoustic guitar and a percussive gate. It’s romantic, not like a relationship, but the way Star Trek is romantic about the love of stars and exploration. I find myself constantly lost in the beauty of it.
Scenius – Enough Fears – I found this album at the very end of the year but I have a feeling this will be on my heavy rotation the next few months. The Leeds band is a bending maze of emotion and turns that I found myself deeply immersed in. The vocals from Fab Nau were so original and cutting. Perfect dark trance resonance and endless builds. This is a band I will be paying close attention to in 2021. I feel the beginning of something beautiful starting.
Vlimmer – XIIIIIIII – This series of albums reaches it’s conclusion in glorious and staggering fashion. Alexander Donat has an amazing gift to take emotion and transfer it into sound seamlessly. Taking a tiny burning ember of idea and gentle blowing on that fire until it swells into a blaze. Truly a criminally underrated talent in modern artistic expression through sound.
White Mansion – Human – Arkansas brings us this strong front to back traditional post punk. I love the bold transitions here and open air vocals. I think the name Human was perfect for this record because it is all about relationships. You can really follow the story. It’s organic, full of heart, and makes a connection.
The Secret French Post Cards – Colors – More glorious post punk darkness this time mixed and mastered by Pedro Code (Iamtheshadow). This record is so understated and comes at you in subtle ways. Olli Ohlander has a ringing and smoky delivery that chews up scenery like a master actor. Blended reverb and echo makes the guitar build tension that pulls you into the moment. Paint a picture in your mind with this record. Another Cold Transmission band.
Danny Blu – The Pale Horse – Crackling energy and neck grabbing hooks from NYC. Personal soul threaded into club kid sleek trance. This record is everything cool I want to give off. The smoky saxophone trills add a beautiful contrast note. The cadence they lyrics are delivered with are an extra percussion and rhythm. It leaves me longing for more.
Elz and the Cult – Bloodlines – Elz is one of those beautiful and unique humans that takes their internal light and bleeds it into every track they make. It has such a genuine and soulful flavor which modern darkpop is so hungry for. It is a record of personal intensity that stands out in the landscape. A true gamechanger record that everyone should experience. On Cold Transmission Music.
Korine – The Night We Raise – Philly based band that is taking the scene by storm for good reason. They have such a glamourous beauty. While the lyrics are full of edge and venom. They truly have mastered the idea of taking two things you wouldn’t think would make sense together and then synthesizing it perfectly. It’s elegant, profound, and makes you feel like you are on the inside of secret. Also it has that glorious shake that ass factor. You will dance to this record all night long. On Born Loser Records now.
Panic Priest – Second Seduction – Chicago based Jack Armondo finds himself once again on my albums of the year. This sophomore album uses his rich and powerful baritone to great effect but softens the edges of the guitars in the first album. Putting the synths forward really captures the neon industrial aspects of his city. I love the way he captured the concept of isolation in the middle of a populated concrete jungle that became so relevant to us all in 2020. An impressive offering both in connection and execution on Negative Gain Records.
Soft Kill – Dead Kids R.I.P. City – Portland postwave glory with gorgeous and rich vocals and rainy flowing waves of synth sound. This record is so efficient and full of intention. This is one of those records it’s never a bad time for. It has that voice of a generation The Smiths sound but with a speed and energy of the modern era.
Idles – Ultra Mono – I love this album for the punk side of post punk. It’s intelligent, political, smash your fucking teeth in complex blasting rock. It has the true core of Fugazi. I wasn’t quite sure where to put this under but it belongs on some list.
Kiss of the Whip – We’re Not Here – Baltimore is doing some amazing things in the current scene and KOTW are near the top of that list. There is an amazing feeling when someone has such a wizardry of an instrument that it transcends and lefts everything in the song around it. That’s how I feel when Tristan Victor plays keyboards. The wide open textures and landscapes that flow through your mind at razor speed. His melodic whisper growl vocals really draw you in and let those complex synth changes do their work. I continue to be impressed with every new growth.
Spectres – Nostalgia – Sometimes I want a record that really pushes the edges of a genre. Sometimes I take comfort in bands that do a familiar sound with perfect execution. This album is so full of feelings that transport me back. Each song is original and new but the pallet of colors is brilliant with New Order, The Smiths, Echo and the Bunnymen. The heartfelt homage to the music I grew up on cleaned and washed and sent straight to my heartstrings.
Loveblind – Sleeping Visions – What happens when a traditionally shoegaze label like Saint Marie Records puts together a superband of Shoegaze talent to make a darkpop album. In this case what happens is one of the most textural beautiful records of the year. Dorian Electique has a stunning and haunting vocal quality that floats on the waves of slushy wave crash guitars and striking drum beats. Every time I play this record I picture silk scarves flowing in my wake. it just makes life a little more beautiful.
Black Nail Caberet – God’s Verging On Sanity – This band from Hungary has been on my constant playlist. They had an album in my top list of 2019 as well. I love that they don’t sit idle and instead explore a new aspect of darkpop. Emese has a remarkable strength and depth to her voice that reminds me of Annie Lennox. The dance beats are a force to be reckoned with and are like a shot of energy in the arm. When I need to find a little something extra within myself this is the record I reach for.
Algiers – There is No Year– If you have never witnessed Algiers live, once the world reopens that should be the top of your to do list. They are the best live show I have seen in the past 20 years. It’s breathtaking to behold. They are another band hard to put in a box in the most amazing away. Notes of Motown/Gospel/Post Punk/Electronica. It’s all thrown in the blender and spun to a smooth creamy glory. The lyrics are poignant, fresh, and delivered with a voice sorely lacking in this scene. This record is such an up and down journey through culture, injustice, and personal revelation. I really can’t stress the importance of this band enough.
Then Comes Silence – Machine – Swedish based dark rockers put out this album in March and I listened to it many times in it’s entirety. The single We Lose the Night is such a perfect jam it has to be my most earworm song of the year. Just walking through the world I found it constantly popping into my head. This record has what I think of as true Post Punk vibes. The bass is thunderous and driving. Vocals are enchanting and full of warm and captivating feeling. Also the track Ritual feat: Karolina Engdahl is a perfect duet to blend beauty and razor cuts. I was an instant fan for life.
Bootblacks – Thin Skies – NYC post punk stars took a giant leap forward in their evolution for this album. It truly takes it’s own life and direction. Adding on Jason Corbett (Actors) to chisel and magnify a sound that already had such a unique and dangerous flavor. It is sleek, mysterious, and is my number one soundtrack if I ever pull an elaborate jewel heist and car chase in the heart of New York City. I think the most magnificent part of this album is that it really took “Post Punk” someplace new. It’s easy to get hung up on nostalgia, and there is some of that here. There is also a sound so sensual and fresh. I can just smell the musk of this album. You need to feel it on your skin.
Empathy Test – Monsters – This album was my most played on bandcamp this year. I just couldn’t stop coming back to it. It holds a beauty and quality that touches on so many genres. It’s personal and full of imagery that transports you into a movie. Isaac has one of those once in a generation voices that speaks right to your heart. This record just struck a chord inside me like the first time I heard RadioheadThe Bends. That feeling of dramatic intensity that makes me think of youth while the refined craftsmanship spoke to my changed perspective. This is a young band, and their potential to grow and make art on another level seems limitless.
So dark music/goth has always run a parallel for with me Romanticism. Love, loss, passion, distance, these ideas that Robert Smith perfected and were such a intimate part of that original concept. Then as the scene evolved and became broader the norm stretched further from that idea. Today as the wind is chill and the leaves have abandoned the trees I am thinking about bands that are still pluming the depths of this idea. As a song writer the most difficult thing for me to write is a genuine love song, that captures the feeling but doesn’t step over into cheese. I tried to come up with examples of releases I have not previously discussed on the page.
A Covenant of Thorns: Black – I have been waiting on this release for a long time. It’s what inspired me to write this piece. Scott-David Allen is a true master of this idea. He has been making songs of heart rending sadness and beauty for decades. I can honestly say this is an opus. The best I have heard yet. The production level here is next level with it’s Depeche Mode level darkpop and his amazing voice pushed to the front where it conveys a delicate yearning and sadness which is lost in the modern era. The whole record is a pilgrimage to the top of a mountain where he offers up his heart like a saint to the object of his love. The passion and idea are so raw but the mixing and song writing is done with a craft that shows the dedication such a personal offering deserves. YOU NEED THIS RECORD! (He screams from the rooftops)
but Numb – A gorgeous synthwave love poem full of hope and expression
Signs of Life – Damn it is hard to pick but this track is so crispy. Allen’s voice is everywhere on this one. The feeling cuts to deep and love lies at your feet. The chorus just opens up like a bird flying over the sea. It’s so bright and dark at the same time in perfect balance.
Choke – This one has a little more edge and sinister to it, but it is still yearning. Because sometimes a little kink can still be romantic.
Creux Lies : Blue – New single out from Sacramento’s favorite dark dreamers has thundering drums to drive is golden thread poetry. It’s a thicker richer sound than phenomenal 2018 release “The Hearth“. Ean’s voice is wide as the ocean and and dances on the mist. It’s really hard to capture the range and beauty of Ian McCulloch (Echo and the Bunnymen) but I feel like that is exactly what happens. My secret favorite part is the outro with old school lofi keyboards. I need a whole hell of a lot more of this and I need it now!
Twin Tribes (Cult of Alia Remix) : Perdidos – Twin Tribes has mastered the post punk passion and sultry beauty of bands like The Cure. This latest remix by Cult of Alia is a softer more subtitle ghostly whisper tantalizing love lost beyond the void. the pulsing keyboard rhythms take the place of driving bass and conjure images of haunted towers. I’m so hungry for another Twin Tribes album, but this was a welcome repose.
Selofan: Partners in Hell – This gorgeous Greek darkwave really deserves it’s own full review. I am embarrassed to say I have not written a review of them yet and they really deserve it. Per the theme I am going to focus on the track “There Must Be Somebody“. Driving mod synth tones flow down a moonlit river while a women in white calls forth with longing. This is beauty and horror blended together in true gothic fashion. Joanna Pavlidou’s voice is heavy with heart and touches you with icy clarity. Pavlidis’s basslines and chorus of synthesizers create a water color image of stormy regret and movement. Why have I not spent more time with this band?
Mortal Boy: Chronoception – LA darkwave band which is beautiful as it is intense. I love the Richard Butler flavor to the vocals. The star strike guitars really add a wonderful contrast to the darkwave style. This is definitely music full of plum red wines and flickering candles. It drips of both passion and loss. Favorite track “Kiss Me Poison” which combines all the best parts of the vocals and woven tapestry. If you have a special goth partner in your life, this is the music they want to hear as you bring out a romantic dinner.
The Secret French Postcards: Colours – New Cold Transmission Music release from Sweden. I love the post punk feel and organic drum sounds that add clarity and precision to this droning croon. This album is the moment in the movie where the protagonist looks across a crowded club and locks eyes with their soulmate. Olli’s vocals are drenched in warm and earnest love. Offset by resonating guitar lines and keyboard cascades by (IAMTHESHADOW) Pedro Code. It’s feels modern and fresh while the melodic vocal chant reminds me of Steve Kilbey (The Church). This is a band I keep feeling grow with every release. This one is out on 12/11/20 and preorder is available now.
Lust For Youth: Lust For Youth – Self titled album from the Danish synthpop band giving huge New Order vibes, which is never a bad thing. This record feels like staring at the sky while rain falls down. It’s cool, it’s stark, and it reminds you why you want to keep hoping for more. I was two tracks in and I’m already a believer. They aren’t reinventing the wheel here, but they are doing something familiar very well. A dark tone while centering in on lyrical hope. My favorite track was “Great Concerns“. This album was a journey of connection and the power of the human experience.
Korine: The Night We Raise – I have been deeply in love with this band since Twin Tribes played them for me on our podcast. From Philly this band is glorious dark dream slush with encompassing vocals and swirling synths. This new album from Sept took another step forward in production and clarity. It also has a razor fang edge to the beauty of the music. Sometimes love bites hard and while wrapped in a velvet glove of tone Korine cuts you to the quick. This is a record you really need to spend the extra moment with and peal back the layers. The cotton candy sweet on your tongue is truly just the first layer.
Sometimes being a music reviewer is hard. Mainly because I am lazy. So rather than digging through my stacks tonight in search of new music. I will turn to the very trustworthy source of Cold Transmission Music and their new Zeitgeist 13. CT takes great pride in their ear for fresh worldwide talent. So this compilation is a wonderful place to get 32 handpicked bands masterly mastered by the amazing Pete Burns for under $5. These were my first impression stand outs.
Hallow – Talk to Her – One of my favorite new CT bands. This song had a racing heartbeat and a booming Chameleon’s base wave. The vocals do this beautiful delayed explosion and drip with longing. Every time I started and stopped listening today, I always came back to this track.
Iamnoone– Solve et Coagula – Giving a little taste of Britpop Stone Roses flavor with a constant high speed Bernard Sumner guitar downward drone. Really keeps the cadence and lifeforce.
Raskolnikov – Fall Colors – Really cool Swiss band that caught my attention. This unceasing keyboard drone never lets to fall to the skeletons chasing you, or get to close to the one of your future. I love the lilting OMD sound in the vocals. There is a no trend I’m loving of beautiful melodic vocals in post punk. Let’s try and limit the amount of Ian Curtis baritone monotone. It really took me to an Autumn state of mind.
Echoberyl – Listen To Oblivion – This French duo really brings the heat. I feel like this should be the updated cyber sexy theme to Carmen Sandiego. Cecillia has a cold burst of sparkling air quality to her voice and adds depth and texture to the driving beat.
Paradise Cove – Lost – Sometimes you want to hear a band reinvent the wheel and sometimes you want the razor sharp syncopation of post punk. The the vocals come in with a passionate and pleading chant that hooks me in. It’s a slow burn scorcher worth the wait.
Cut City – Replacement – What a breath of fresh air in doom and gloom. This has the crisp drums and power push of post punk. It couples it with a bright and crackling sound. I think I heard major chords. I feel a lot of early 2000s New York here. Lovely crooning vocals to pair for a gripping and soulful smash. Must dig deeper into this band from Sweden.
Clone Culture – They Shoot, I Die – Italian Post punk rockers bring a nice dash of glam to this Nextwave ballad. I love when you hear a band just blends well. It really shines through when it is effortless like this. This track has one of those chorus hooks that sticks to your head like honey to the bowl.
Camlann – To Vatican – Absurdly young and talented Indonesian band unleashed this song that is both exotic and passionate. The vocals are haunting and expressive in a way that captures me. I have such high hopes for the future of darkwave with young spirits like these leading the charge into the future.
Empathy Test – Monsters – Look I have spent a lot of time talking about Empathy Tests titanic album Monsters. It’s a top contender for our album of the year. Basically if you don’t have Monsters, you need Monsters.
Bedless Bones – Creation – My hands down favorite band from Estonia has given an exclusive track for this compilation. They always have such a surreal swirl to their sound. The drums are built for war and the keyboards contract that primitive echo with an electronic wisp. This is dream fuel music.
Two Moons – Second Life – Had not heard this band before but it was a pleasant surprise. A totally unique quirk Nick Cave feel to the vocals. The music is cinematic and had perfect ebbs and flows. I will be immediately seeking out there catalog.
Plague Garden – Lost – Snake slither true traditional goth with darkwave dreams will always make my list. This done with expert precision by some dear friends from Colorado. This flowing narrative is rich and the setting is a desolate wasteland of sorrow. Love this band, love the track.
The Neu Neon – Crush – This Berlin band is scorching florescent motorcycle synthabilly brain candy. It’s driving, beautiful, and always feels inches from speeding off the cliff. This sound mixes the best parts of 10 things I love.
Kalte Nacht – Inmost Desire? – Hot sounds from Athens Greece. The vocalist has that Shannon Light Asylum force and 70’s punk rock aggression. It cooks a long at breakneck darkwave. I had never heard this band before but believe me they are on my radar now. This is the power of a good compilation.
Berlin Taxi – Count On U – Sleezy dark NOLA streets drip from these elegant and shimmering vocals. The music is wonderfully subtle and blends the power of the voice perfectly. I would like some more please.
Did I listen to every track? Your bet your sweet bippy I did. They were all worth it. However these are the songs that really grabbed hold. You are going to be hard pressed to get a better playlist for this price.
It’s October my darklings, the month of spook, where goths can be goths. So I need to start thinking about my Halloween soundtrack. I’ll fire through the latest batwings and eye lashes of newt falling into my cauldron.
Swansect: Kill Pop Goth – Adrian is always thrashing like a madman in a new direction. Always producing something he hasn’t done and something I hadn’t heard a million times before. Track #1 Horse of Grass has this cool percussion driven guitar strike. Almost a folk goth tempo with vibrating underwater vocals. Track #2 Kain is my favorite and has this sinister Tones on Tail Daniel Ash sex appeal. The words are in Norwegian telling the story of Cain. I love the old school batcave rockabilly riff. Swansect always takes you to a place in your mind with the music, and usually that place is a nightmare.
SpankTheNun: The Bunker Tapes II– This album is mixed by the legendary Claus Larson (LeatherStrip). Out of Texas Eric Hanes does a hard and nasty industrial, full of chant and eye beam precision. Track 2 Fight and Breed is a building whisper that holds aggression on a greasy chain to make a tension build you can feel on the back your neck. I think what really sets this above the bar are how clearly the vocals ring for industrial music. It has a bit of effect, but you can savor every growled line. Some amazing remixes here from Melodywhore, Sapphirra Vee, and Assemblage 23. My favorite track was Lies and Hate which unleashes a real Nitzer Ebb feel. I think what impressed me most of this album is how it never has to turn the volume up to 11 to hit you in the fucking teeth with it’s power. It’s a real skill to project that much rage without screaming.
Vazum: Rated V – Ok I know I recently reviewed the Detroit band Vazum, but they did this new release specifically for Halloween with a monster/ghoul theme. It’s stalking creature abomination horror full of heavy guitars and sinister keys. Zach unleashes and inner demon from behind his usually lovely lilting vocals to send a shiver up the spine. I said the same about the previous album Vampyre Villa but I love the use of 90’s alternative mixed into the horror. Emily has a soulful Concrete Blonde vocal style that is the perfect offset in every song. Each monster has it’s own tone and flavor, my favorite was Werewolf . This one really let Emily shine on vocals and truly laid out the primal transformation. Cool lyrical poetry, “Copper turns to gold, sell our gold for silver”. There is so much going on here stylistically. We had an interview with them last week (which will post soon) I am really bummed I hadn’t heard this to discuss before hand.
Vanity Kills : Chapter 2 Enemy – Hard rocking cyberpunk from Cardiff UK. The real beauty captured here is the driving rock 90’s aggression of Helmet phase shifting into pixilated time dilation of club smashing electro-core. The intensity almost rides the line of metal. Yet the distinctive dance stomp is catchy and clean. For personal preference I wish I could hear more of the lyrics and feel the melody lines. The music really placed me in an empty room of drywall I found myself smashing out of, I wanted to know more about why. Favorite track was “This is Gonna Hurt”, it had such a punch it made me picture Clutch smashing synthesizers on a flaming stage. This one shows great promise for the future.
UnderTheSkin: End This Summer – New single complete with some outstanding remixes from Poland. This one is a Cure heavy darkwave bird of prey soaring on a night sky. Mariusz has a beautiful and captivating voice. The bassline of the song is everywhere beneath the soaring wings. A powerful track in crafting and execution. So who could successfully remix such a track? Ash Code, Shad Shadows, Kill Shelter, and Antipole with Paris. Now that is a heavy weight endorsement of some of the great production tunesmiths of our scene. A lot of individual flavor here for each remix on an absolute scorcher of a track.
Twin Tribes: Shadows(Matte Black remix) – Holy shit how did I not know this was coming out? Also why does Matte Black get to remix Twin Tribes and I don’t? Ok now that petty jealousy is out of the way, this is my favorite Twin Tribes song. The song I discovered them from. I didn’t even recognize it at first in the best possible way. This is everything I want from a remix. It has taken their glorious violet energy and fired it through a prism to create something new and beautiful. I am jaw dropped on the floor right now. Buy this immediately.
Panic Priest: When Daylight Disappears – Brand new single from Jack, and it’s another burner. Such a master of blending sizzling guitar licks and neon streaming synths. His bellowing baritone voice is an trap I can’t stop falling into. This song is a prayer to the darkness that surrounds us. I want to sit on a Chicago roof staring at the moon as the city sleeps below.
Klack: Two Minute Warning (Depeche Mode Cover) – This is a beautiful cover with a beautiful and tragic story behind it. Claus Larsen (Leatherstrip) recently lost his husband Kurt after a long battle with sickness. It left a lot of medical bills and the community really rallied around him in this tough time. All proceeds go to assist their family. I’ve always loved this song and Klack of course didn’t disappoint to capture it’s energy and majesty.