SHADOWPLAY – A post-punk, darkwave overview – Blood Sound “Nightclub,” Double Echo “Phantomine,” Gattopardo “Gattopardo,” Love in Prague “Fallen Angels”

Blood Sound / Double Echo / Gattopardo / Love in Prague
Nightclub / Phantomime / Gattopardo / Fallen Angels
Bandcamp / edils records / Bandcamp / Unknown Pleasures

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blood sound cover

Emerging with icy assurance out of what’s rapidly becoming the new birthplace of the new post-punkocracy, Philadelphia’s Blood Sound make a synth-rich, melody-friendly noise that counterbalances the sharp, snapping twitch of its sound with a plaintive haunt of vocals – light here, pleading there – and a soft driving bass. The result is a brooding, and not unpleasant, elegance.

Built on a bright, Cure-y gallop of guitar, “I Don’t Want” is swirly-from-the-mists pop with mystery at its heart; “LA Punk,” though no less dream-infected, has more of a relentless punch in its synth drum, its tone of yearn and lurk suggesting a refugee from the early 80’s hanging in the La Cienaga shadows, daydreaming a scene that seemed to vanish the moment it arrived, though the longing inherent here, admittedly, can’t quite compare to that that follows. “Acid Summer,” with benefit of an added female harmony and some to-the-point synth, locates the heart of wistful loneliness itself, drifting through memory’s echoes like faded Polaroid nostalgia personified.

Its three brief interludes aside (“TV Synth 1-3,” just quick palate cleansers for the soul), Nightclub carries its titular atmospherics on its young shoulders with an easy élan and a minimum of affectation. “Psychic Fear” is shot through with a lingering, eerie rumble of sadness, “Almost” an effecting murmur of the misty bygone, lovely and persistent with the synth emitting a sound similar to a dozen refrigerated finger snaps in the middle of a deserted warehouse, “Catacombs,” the album’s longest track, closing things out with a drift of regret you can’t forget and only if New Order could still bring the haunt of sorrowful joy like this. Highly recommended for those times you find yourself staring with a baleful near-madness through thick cigarette smoke at sparse apartment walls, Nightclub is a post-punk post-night out listen extraordinaire.

[Nightclub available digitally here]

double echo cover

Shifting now to the icier side of the Mersey, we come to the silvered gloom of Double Echo. Though ensconsed in Liverpool, you’d be forgiven for thinking there were Nordic roots at work here, the duo (Chris Luna and Ash Lerczak) exhibiting a sound, especially in the glowering vocals, that gives a sense of bouncing off glacial canyon walls and just generally inhabiting a template grander and more, well, epic than many while also clearly knowing their way around a timeless melody or three.

Gripped throughout by a throbbing mesmer of bass – someone’s been studying a bit of Barry Adamson, we suspect – expansive yet grounded, Phantomime convinces with the force of its arrangements and the conviction – if not always the clarity – of its production, redolent of both its presumed geologic influences – one can nearly hear plumes of steam rising off a frozen countryside and of course this album cover comes to mind – and the eternal chill of existence evinced by the best of goth-touched post-punk.

Thus, the opening title track injects a muscular uptempo momentum into its preponderant gloom, “A Shadow” (ironically) glows with a double-tracked pair of gleaming guitars as if negotiating an icy ridge, the momentous “Playhouse” makes promethean use of that bass, while the vocals, tracing a strong if sorrowful Murphyesque melody, remain enveloped in the shroud. If I’ve a quibble with Phantomime that would be it. Though in the main the tracks are well worth thrilling to – “Metropolis'” deep emotive experimentation will pull every longing memory you have straight up out of you, “Silent Order,” all synthy mystery and tripping drums, will have you reliving days that likely occurred before you were born, while the hypnotic, metronomic “Permanent Haze” will possibly put you in one – the vocals on this record are all inexplicably muddied and undermixed and are heard as if from the back of the club at best and more often as if through the walls while passing by on the street. Still recommended – I love playing this album – but let’s hope the band address this next time around, because hey, if they do, the new generation post-punk world is theirs.

[Phantomime available here as well as Bandcamp and Discogs]

 

gattopardo cover

Flying like restless, amphetamined monkeys down to South America, we arrive just in time to hear São Paulo’s Gattopardo going full-tilt, high-energy, broken funk-inflected post-punk much in the footsteps of their predecessors. Brazil’s largest city, like the rest of the country, had to wait over a half-decade for the dictatorial military regime to slowly crumble before they could get the party started but when it did, in 1985, it exploded, with the likes of As Mercenarias, Patife, Gang 90 and many others bringing an unparalleled vibrancy and Latin-influenced flavor to the form with a kind of pent-up violence of joy. It’s those buoyantly restless footsteps Gattopardo step into and they do not disappoint.

If you need proof just skip to “Asfixia,” track three on their self-titled debut (released in December of last year – yeah, we’re late but it don’t matter and we ain’t sorry). Bursting forward with a Burnelesque bass, some shardy guitar and an uncoiled trill of compact drumming tighter than Topper Headon’s jazziest punk rock break (courtesy Alan Crisogano), the track then settles into a careening yet phlegmatic burner, singer Elcio Basílio more or less speak-singing while the band trembles with a contained exuberance around him. “Desencanto,” following on its heels, plumbs deeper and more immediate, Pedro Keppler’s subterranean bass setting the table for Rodrigo Feltrini’s chimey guitar chording, while “Motivos Maiores” has, of all things, a dialed-down “Institutionalized” feel to it before “Meninos Perdidos” keeps the fuck-you anger flowing with an unfettered straight-ahead drive and a couple of quick shifts that are as unexpected as they are effective.

And there you have an indicative block of tracks that represents but a third of this record (and by the way, don’t take my advice and skip to track three. Start at the start and run to the end. The record, the band, and you deserve it). The rest of Gattopardo follows inspired suit. Melody flares darkly everywhere, the arrangements and changes are inventive but integral and anyway satisfying throughout. This is an album – and band – that demand your discovery. Whether you’re familiar with the history that informs it or this is the first you’ve heard about it, no matter what ‘brand’ of punk/post-punk you lean toward, Gattopardo is going to knock you sideways and we here at SEM are on tenterhooks awaiting their next release. You will be as well, we stake our reputation on it.

[Gattopardo available digitally here]

 

love in prague cover

Skipping back across the Atlantic we land in Lyon, France, home to a commanding couple – Benoit and Chloe – that trade under the name Love in Prague. Burnishing a sonically romantic worldview with an icicle mystery of synth, a deft sprinkling of effects and Chloe’s bass set on ‘subtle persistence,’ the end product on sophomore effort Fallen Angels is an edgy dreaminess rich in a sort of animated continental ennui. Think Cocteau Twins had they been keener on keeping a defined rhythmic profile and less interested in slipping behind a languorous muslin mist. In short, with Love in Prague, you still get the lush Frazier/Guthrie-like melodies and their implied (and glorious) heartbreak, but with more dynamism, less pretension.

Hence the vivid poignancy of the title track, the light, locomotive pulse of its bassline underlying the gleam of resignation fueling the body of the song. Hence “Betrayed,” the way it hangs in the ashen light of dusk, hovering in that soulful space between injury and forgiveness, the treated Durutti touches, a single keyboard figure doing all the talking for the heart. Hence the luminous drama of “Lost,” lifting us – via elevated synth/guitar interplay and a countervailing austere bass part – into a twisting existential wind and leaving us there, and us glad for it. Hence the Ferry-like ambience of “The Hall,” as if the Roxy Music roué had actually emerged as front man for Dead Can Dance or perhaps Lebanon Hanover. I could ‘hence’ it up even more but you get the gist. With its textbook economy of songwriting, the effortless faculty of hooks at play, the unshowy confidence that’s all the showier for it, the work on Fallen Angels finds Love in Prague in a place similar to the Associates on the cusp of Sulk (minus, of course, a couple of Billy’s octaves), beginning to distill the somewhat rawer ambitions of their earlier work into a more assured service to ‘the song.’ Not, by any definition, a bad place to be.

[Fallen Angels available here]