SHADOWPLAY – A Darkwave, Post-Punk Overview – BOOTBLACKS “Veins,” ROSALUX “Rosalux,” AVIARIES “Aviaries”

Bootblacks / Rosalux / Aviaries
Veins / Rosalux / Aviaries
Manic Depression / The Burros Discos / Bandcamp

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bootblacks-lp

Happiest time of my writing day is when I get to sit down and get editorially intimate with an album like this. Just recently released on crucial imprint Manic Depression, Brooklyn band Bootblacks’ debut Veins delivers in all the multitude of ways you hope and expect from a record exploring these particular shadows. Its darkness lithe, its temperament one of smartly uncoiling restraint, Veins lives in those ever time- and shape-shifting margins where chiaroscuro beckons but glints of light stubbornly remain, effervescence is forever trimmed with gloom (or is it the other way around and does it even matter?), where irreality carries a very eerie resemblance to what we’d normally term ‘the real.’ Said another way, this record’s animated by a kind of gleaming bright tension that frequently finds a direct correlation between the thoughtful furrowing of brows and the unabashed upping of one’s pulse.

As if wishing to prove that point from the off, the shiningly doleful “Colorblind” opens the album sounding like Berlin-era Bowie given a thumping percussive boost, lucid like that, propulsive. “Southpole” follows with crafty, early-80’s Dolbyisms, the synth and guitar both with a chipped snap to them while “Drift” opts for heavier dynamics, the band apparently playing from inside an arpeggiated ice cave somewhere. Later, “ABC” plumps for the industrial groove like a “Being Boiled” Human League consorting with Soft Cell at their most adroit and we can only imagine how flippingly great it’s going to sound live when they hit Portland in November (check their Facebook page to keep abreast of any tour plans near you). Two ticks past that the tenebrous throb of “Decoys” closes the record with what we might safely call a tense and glorious dancefloor grandeur, eerie and swaggeringly present in simultaneous measure. It’s in three songs at the heart of Veins‘ tracklist, however, where lies Bootblacks’ strongest beating heart.

 

“Always” brims with a skipping insistence, its dancey impatient synth (that’d be singer Panther) counterbalanced by a calming dreamtime vocal, the accents of a nervous but grounded guitar (Alli) acting as fulcrum. From there, “Erosion” carries on a paranoiac love affair between a dark, furtive skepticism and the deftly thunderous hurtling-forward soundscape in which it finds itself embedded. Lastly, there’s the anxious relentless “Sub Rosa,” its staccato trumpet, its pounding pace of adrenaline let loose on a short leash (that’s Roger Human Being on drums, ladies and gentlemen), and another vocal that strains against its own interests, this time taking on claustrophobia with a wild abandon, is in essence the band exceeding itself. One almost thinks the point here was to take the alienation energies of Gang of Four and subject them to the compression demands of the !!! aesthetic, giving it thereby an intensely controlled jitteriness that just doesn’t quit.

It’s rather exactly how we want our bands in this jittery (now post-Brexit) age to behave, providing sure unbridled expression to the scurrying uncertainties of the heart. See Bootblacks live if you can and if not then buy this damn record. [find it here]

rosalux

Rosalux are from Buenos Aires but create a beautifully ruined sound that could conceivably place them just about anywhere on this trouble-plagued planet of ours. One suspects, in fact, listening to the nine tracks that comprise the band’s official debut, released last October (takes us a while sometimes but we tend to get there), that this fearless little trio has figured out a way to read the scars on our collective heart and translate them into song. Powerful and aching, Rosalux, while netting the selfsame band inclusion on the most recent NEXT list, gets immediately edited in to SEM’s top 20 21 post-punk album list of 2015.

The record emerges with a raw deliberate grace, “Ina,” under a mournful synth shroud, laying out the stakes in a way that feels both warning and elegy. By the time it gets to that darkly wistful Graham Lewis-like bassline (Oscar Desastre) we’ve already sunk into the gorgeous mire of the thing, the beseeching melancholy of Adrian Medina’s vocals luring us, willfully, into a seductive despair. From there “Cuellos” picks us up with its glooming bass thrum, flicking runs of Pylonesque guitar (Damo Ezequiel) and overall a deep grey groove that by turns soothes and unsettles. “Longinos” keeps this trance, this transfixation, afloat, a numinous but visceral song that seems to hover above you, its shadow embracing, sound cascading like shoegaze with a febrile soul. It’s also the only time I can remember where I’ve felt compelled to attach the word ‘haunting’ to the word ‘jangle’ to describe the character of a guitar. Couple tracks later, past the brittle, tremulous and atmospheric Jamie Stewart-voiced “Amoxidol,” “Sabanas Sucias” (“Dirty Sheets”) draws us even further into this album-length spell with sharp dark tumbling crescendos buoyed by Rosalux‘s most plaintively searing vocal – in this case double-tracked and reverbed – and rough flagrant flourishes of guitar before it all drifts into an almost Swans-like coda concerned less with menace that open-ended mystery.

 

It’s around this point that, having completely entrusted yourself to it, you come to understand that such is the honesty and facility of this band’s sound that, for one, it has you double-checking to make sure they really are just a three-piece and, for two, reminds you of that sound from the London of 1979-80 in that, rather than emulating, it comes across with a similarly effortless authority, just as so many debuts did at the time. You hear it again and again.

“La Suma,” with its ragged loneliness of acoustic, the surround of echoed whispering voices and effects that crowd around guest vocalist Adrián Yanzón’s plainspoken, gently impassioned verse recital, spins a fraught gold out of its relative busyness, “Desde los Picos” ups the ante with a bracing but stripped-back wall of sound that exudes what we’re going to go ahead and call a joyous woefulness, the head-turning “Adormecido” begins life with vintage video-game synth effects before swamping itself in the sonic equivalent of a deep emotional bruise, as gloriously downcast as it is resillient, while “Oceanico” takes us out with a clanging majesty as if under a cloak make of electricity, doubt, and a rather petulant anguish.

In the end, what it comes down to is, well, I’ll just go with what I kept muttering to myself while digging ever further into Rosalux as I wrote this: What a beautiful record. [available here]

aviaries

Jumping now to the darker chillier climes of Wroclaw, Poland, we happen upon Aviaries, a young quartet whose self-titled debut came bursting into bold, unignorable existence this past March. Reflecting the grimmer realities of their homeland’s complicated, martyred history – think for one of the national tension that would result from a devotedly Catholic country under the yoke of the Soviets all those years – a sang froid dynamism shadows these tracks as if hooded in a cowl that only Poles can see. The band’s sound is so loomingly full of the conflicted polarities of hope and despair as to suggest that, all said and done, they’re one and the same. ‘course, it also doesn’t hurt that tune-wise Aviaries is a banging great band.

From “Pills”‘ creeping allure, all haunt and echoing breakout and 360° of encroaching sound that puts you deliriously on edge, to the vaulting sonority of “Blindfold” that starts as if it’s soundtracking monochromatic scenes of smoke-rising rubble and carnage only to emerge into a silver (if still hesitant) light, guitars delivering redemption as on guitars can, to bass-led magic that is “What You Breathe With” that layers its bounty of elements into an absolutely hypnotic epic that at seven minutes forty seven still goes by far too fast, there’s nowhere to turn here and not be captured.

 

If it’s not been made clear enough, Aviaries songs do tend to build cinematically, evocative sheets of implicit drama overlaying one atop another into a sound-collaged whole that never fails to transport (as well-made cinema should, surely). Apparent even on the album’s shortest track “Soil,” whose amped – and trance-inducing – acoustic consorts with an umbrous twilight synth, brief near-operatic drum intrusions and disembodied snippets of vocal that seem cribbed from a tower block TV during the shipyard years, it’s especially at play on “Cold,” Aviaries‘ final (instrumental) track that clocks in at eight minutes and accrues to a cumulative intensity that suggests Philip Glass were he a 24-year-old born into a Polish post-industrial post-cold war landscape and found himself locked into the post-punk imperatives that are the naturally reflexive response to such an environment.

That track, as with the album entire, immerses with a massive low- (and minor-) key splendor that envelops before you realize. The mistake, at that point, would be to resist. [get it here]