Written by: Dave Cantrell
This is a time, isn’t it? The level of damage and death being met too often by the perfidy of the political class, the yawning gulf of societal iniquities again being thrust into the spotlight* as it – no surprise – grows deeper and wider (while of course corporations get…oh, why bother even saying it?), the lockdown stay-at-home quarantine psychosis unmasking in even sharper relief the level of radical idiocy infecting this – and pretty much every – country, it seems to me that referring to this massive upheaval as merely a ‘crisis’ as is so often the case is only acceptable if it’s universally understood that the word ‘existential’ is implicitly set in front of it. And while those of us here in the worldwide darkwave community could well be expected to kind of adopt this event in a way that would more or less amount to a nihilistic ‘We told you so,’ what has impressed me over the past two plus months has been the level of outreach, compassion, and just outright love that has flooded the scene. We are by nature reclusive in many ways, viewing the wider world with, at the very least, a hard-earned skepticism. Broadly speaking we’re a widely dispersed city of loners with dark-but-still-romantic hearts, and what’s been gratifying is to have had confirmed the belief this writer has held since forever that inside those dark hearts lie reservoirs of light ready to be tapped. And while the next NEXT has been percolating for some time, let’s let it double this time as a reward of sorts, a gesture of immeasurable thanks to all of you.
All that said, it must be additionally noted that now, more than ever, SEM could publish one of these every week and potentially never run out of bands/artists, so restlessly dynamic is the scene all around the world. While that’s not going to happen – these are pretty labor intensive and even with everything on hold there’s still plenty of life that needs attending to – that constant ongoing burst of activity is perhaps itself a response to how increasingly knife’s-edge dangerous our world is becoming. As vast and relatively unruly as it is, I still maintain that, outside of hip hop, post-punk (and its many related subs) is at its core the genre best-suited to reflect the tumultuous, the uncertain, the paranoia-inducing, the dark, the tantalizing uncertain. As I write this, I’m listening to the new Wire album due in June 2020. I rest my case.
(* – intro written prior to the George Floyd murder and the roiling tide of anger at this country’s history and maintenance of systemic racial and economic injustice was unleashed throughout the US and beyond. May a just and righteous peace rise from the chaos.)
[feature pic of True Body: @jjusticeimages]
THE ANIX (Los Angeles)
Among the many (perpetually asterisk-attached) benefits of the digital age is the ability of a single individual to present their music – with or without collaborators – with the breadth and depth formally reserved for a full-on permanent band, in the process attaining, more often than not, the reflexive use of that designation anyway. In The Anix’s case, the work of LA’s Brandon Smith could persuasively be put forward as the prime example of that modern expansion of our definition of the word ‘band.’ Though indeed most often flanked in the studio by a passel of musician friends, the essence of the compositions themselves come from the guy at the center of the vortex. At this for some time now (the self-released An Illusion of Time arrived in 2004) and now on the increasingly vital FiXT label, The Anix betray a barely-rivaled familiarity with the nexus between urban angst and darkly emotional yearning, an intersection none of us seem able to detour ourselves around but few of us turn in to an art form of such magnitude. Get Anix-ed!
BOX AND THE TWINS (Cologne, Germany)
Another band iteration that has gained significant footing well beyond what was the norm even ten years ago is the twosome. Often a couple, just as often not (and never particularly that relevant, really), the twosome has become so prominent that it’s a fair guess that no word is uttered as often during mic breaks on this writer’s radio show than ‘duo.’ Technically – or rather ‘technologically – a trio since ‘Box’ is given equal billing, it’s the quote unquote Twins Carolin and Mike to put the words (and other sounds) in Box’s mouth, and as is evident from the clip below – aside from it visually riffing on the twin theme in its own unsettlingly subtle way – they’re really quite good at it indeed. Home on Hante wave enchantress Hélène de Thoury’s Synth Religion label (with whom they toured the US a couple years back and no I don’t remember why I didn’t buy their LP as well), Box and the Twins are as solid and they are brilliant and if we were you we’d expect them to be around at least long enough to triple their current 3-album back catalog (which is available here).
DARKSWOON (Portland, OR)
Speaking of enchantments, we have a fair number of our own sources here in Portland but none perhaps quite as arresting as Darkswoon. Possessed of a brand of enigmatically sultry mystique, Darkswoon’s sound has an ageless moody quality to it that is a bit jarring when held up against the trio’s somewhat unassuming stage presence. This we have to expect is due the fact that head ‘swoon Jana Cushman almost certainly contains, as they say, multitudes. Unfailingly polite and slightly self-effacing in person, in song – especially as buttressed by life partner/synth and beats provider Rachel Ellis and bassist Andrew Michael Potter – she effuses something of hushed mania you might more likely associate with a seeress on a moonless night in a witchy state of mind. It’s that dynamic that is no doubt responsible for the, well, enchanting tension that beguiles and thrills and leads you – nay, wills you – down some beautifully sinuous paths. Darkswoon call what they do ‘electrohaze,’ which suits, but we prefer to simply call it…intoxicating. Swoon for yourself here.
DEHET SINN (Warsaw)
This quartet from the Polish capitol is in possession of a sound that belies both their relatively short time together and, one presumes, their age. Having but a debut LP (Mora) and a preceding demos EP under their collective belt – not bad considering they’ve been a band a scant two, two-and-a-half years but regardless hardly a deep catalog – the authority and confidence that underlies their sonic dynamism is, quite simply, something to behold. While the vocals shade without apology into a somewhat emotionally delicate tone no matter the anger that at times is driving them , the instrumentation hurtles around a hardier core that suggests a lot of life lived in what, compared to this writer anyway, is the band members’ short lives, often comporting itself as if a tranche of lost Sisters of Mercy or Southern Death Cult tracks had been unearthed in some ungodly vault (one is not terribly surprised to realize that that debut album’s title is but a bare phonetic whisker away from SDC’s seminal first single). The beauty of it is that it all sounds honestly come by, that they couldn’t sound another way if they tried. The conviction is theirs, the power is theirs, the songs are theirs, and they’re great. Find out for yourself here.
FEARING (Los Angeles)
Hovering on the brink of the next NEXT list since their very first appearance on our radar here at the darkwave desk (which would have been around the time of their initial EP A Life of None three years back), we doubt we have to tell you how thrilled we were to get word of the imminent release of their debut full-length (Shadow on Funeral Party) earlier this year, not to mention the opportunity to buy it when it dropped in May, which we jumped on. Anyway, a fearsome foursome from California – calling Oakland home now, apparently – their brand of dark power could reasonably originate from anywhere at almost any time, such is the gripping universality of their sound. While happy to have them on the same coast – and happy to have scored that first issue LP – we are more than a bit saddened that their show with Soft Kill at Portland’s Doug Fir in early June is, of course, not going to happen (which isn’t to mention the already cancelled Out From The Shadows VI festival put on by yours truly). But, hey, we’re not going anywhere, we’re pretty damn confident Fearing will still be there when all this is done, so one lingers in the shadows of faith that we’ll see them live again soon. Until then, hear more Fearing here.
MR. KITTY (Austin TX)
Perfecting their spirited mix of EBM, 80’s synth love and a kind of dark electronica dance vibe since at least 2008 when the first of the numerous R.M.X mini-albums emerged on Bandcamp and other platforms (taking the remix route as a working, interactive apprenticeship to help hone their own solo career), Forrest LeMaire AKA Mr Kitty has since become a staple of any and all scenes encompassed by that polyglot of influences listed up top, in the process releasing eight full-lengths – the latest, 2019’s double album Ephemeral landing near the top of both Victor’s and my year-end best-of lists – and countless singles and EPs. Lest one worry that that restless need to create-slash-entertain has found itself put on hold during this silently brutal shutdown, worry not and hie over to YouTube and catch up to either of the two hour-plus live performances MK has thus far offered. While to some it may come as a bit of a surprise that Mr Kitty calls the capital of Texas home, it’s worth remembering this music could find itself welcomed anywhere that people like to dance to deeply dark-yet-joyous beats. Click this click for Mr. Kitty’s many offerings.
NIGHT SINS (Philadelphia)
For any artist in any medium, standing still might not portend the end of said artist’s physical being – they’ll still get up every morning, make coffee then spin through the motions – but it will at least cripple if not outright kill the very creative spirit that animated their work their work in the first place and thereby defined them. They will, in short, become but a simulacrum of the ‘artist’ they originally were. There is clearly no danger of this fate befalling Philly’s Kyle Kimball, dba Night Sins. From the first stirrings heard on 2012’s New Grave to last year’s Portrait in Silver we’ve witnessed with our ears Kimball’s evolution from a strong, sure-footed heir to the dark thrones of gothicized post-punk to a strong, sure-footed explorer of the entire genre-spectrum, the result, in our view, the emergence of a (dare we say) more matured, nuanced artist with the sound to match. What’s most cool about this development in our view is that it means that Night Sins now have a deeper palette from which to draw, which in turn means they can choose whenever it suits to delve back into the blacker end of the darkwave spectrum. It’s the best of not just two worlds but the best of multiple ones. For the latest Sins, go…here!
An argument could be persuasively made that no development, not Ian Curtis’s birth, not the depression that slowly encroached upon Robert Smith’s shoulders post-3 Imaginary Boys, not even Television’s rather accidental discovery of angular, spooked existentialism in the form of a ‘rock’ song, was more crucial to the birth of the by-now vast universe we call ‘darkwave’ than the somewhat sudden availability of cheap synthesizers in the mid-70’s. Maybe it’s because they seem to be able to intimate the entire spectrum of darkness, from that that exists in shadows to that that dwells within, which is to say any quality that is best defined as the exquisite – and oddly inextinguishable – absence of light but it’s certainly been the case that over the years since beginning both the radio show and this NEXT feature [find all previous NEXTs here, btw] that the presence of the synth, with its near illimitable possibilities, has come to dominate the landscape. It’s further likely that few have put its myriad potential to more expressive use than NNHMN. First coming to life as Non-Human Persons in Warsaw in the persons of Lee & Mihau, what began as a more strictly electronica proposition has, rather counter-intuitively, expanded its horizons while truncating its name. In the process NNHMN have become Lee & Laudarg and Berlin has become their home and their palette, regardless of how desperate the themes therein may be, has become emotionally richer. Allow us to coin a new word here: Hellalujah!! Also allow us to suggest further exploration of the Non-Human universe.
NOX NOVACULA (Seattle)
One of the strongest strains inside the wild, widely-inclusive melange of styles and amalgams that make up the contemporary scene is that of unrepentant goth, of which Nox Novacula has to be considered among its most fervent carriers. Rising as if from a collective grave in 2017, the Seattle foursome – Charlotte, Dav, Ezra, Zu – wasted little time establishing their place in the darkest of the darkling firmaments, playing shows, appearing at festivals (including OFTS V in 2019 where they shared the stage with the likes of Cruz de Navajas, Altar de Fey and others), and just generally creating the kind of controlled mayhem you might expect from a band this driven. And speaking of ‘driven,’ their sound, propulsive, relentless, and relentlessly melodic. For evidence we off this just-released video of “Drug,” featuring live performance video shot at the none-more-esteemed punk+more club Black Water owned by Alex from Arctic Flowers and the Keith from The Estranged. For more evidence, we direct you here.
A trio comprised of Rico Sperl, Ly Nguyen, and Matthias Zimmermann, PAAR from the very start have trafficked in a style of post-punk that has become synonymously redolent of what could well be called the ‘European model’ of the current-day’s renaissance. Which isn’t to suggest by any means that it’s all some agglomerated mass, each band indistinguishable from each other (all evidence points to it being quite the opposite, in fact) but rather that they’re plugged into a power dynamic that has felt unstoppable. To that dynamic PAAR have brought, and continue to bring, a tight, brash confidence that belies the relatively small number of band members. Put another way, if one were to seek a sound that represents exactly the reason those of us over here on the ‘wrong’ side of the Atlantic are so envious of the amazing festival scene that Europe enjoys, one could not do better than to point to PAAR. Seek it here.
PANIC PRIEST (Chicago)
Even as we understand that it’s not always the case, that sometimes Jack Armando AKA Panic Priest performs live with an accomplice or two, the fact is that when he played Out From The Shadows V here in Portland in 2019 he did so solo and it’s to that that we wish to speak. To wit: How the hell does anyone do that?!?! And do it so well? An absolutely mesmerizing experience, just Jack with his electric guitar and a phalanx of backing tracks, and it seemed so bloody effortless, or anyway nowhere near the stress-filled ordeal the prospect of such would be to any of us mortals. All of which would be for naught were the songs not the bewitching, ear-worming things they are, achieving as they seem to so often do a hybridized mix of edgy electronica and an old school post-punk tuney-ness that’s both arresting and kind of boldly sentimental. What most shines in the Armando portfolio though might well be his sense of community, reflected not only in the fan-inclusive quarantine video below but as well his YouTube-hosted Home Sessions that include an in-real-time, post-performance interactive chat. Oh, and suppose we should mention, second album Second Seduction arrived May 1st on Negative Gain. Life, indeed, goes on.
THE PURGE (Norfolk, VA)
We can’t decide whether the lede here as it applies to Thomas Duerig – who for all intents and purposes is The Purge – should be built around the word ‘busy’ or the word ‘prolific.’ One may think that one infers the other, and oftentimes it does but just as often, it seems to us (and we should know), being ‘busy’ doesn’t necessarily bear results that would satisfy the basic requirements of the word ‘prolific.’ For Mr Duerig, it would in fact appear that the two words are pretty much fused at the hip. How else to explain a work ethic that has, since the “Waves” album appeared in 2013, produced – count ’em – 10 singles/EPs and five full-lengths, the majority of the latter coming in a flurry over the past few years. Building up tense, cathartic tracks from the ground up, using the entire spectrum of genre-affiliated sounds and effects, Duerig proceeds to fearlessly plumb the many ever-mysterious catacombs of his – and therefore, in a sense, our collective – emotional depths. The result are songs that are stunning, brave, and listenable af. But don’t trust us, find out for yourself here.
ROSI (Bielefeld, Germany)
Oddly, what most intrigues sometimes and therefore, in an unexpected twist, excites us to our very core, is that music that inhabits something of a more ruminative vibe, that expresses itself as much through the spaces that breathe inside their songs as through the actual sounds that tangibly define them. It, at the very least, makes for a thoughtful hypnotism that’s difficult to break away from once you’re inside it, and in that respect, we’d have to speculate that no one is quite employing “sad dance band” approach (their own description) than German duo ROSI. While not strict in their devotion to the relatively laconic – check the break loose quality of such tracks as (no surprise) “Schwartzer Kaffee” on debut LP called (also no surprise) Grey City Life or the relatively rollicking “Trennen” from 2018’s Hope – the fact is that, for maximum impact, artists must go where they sense the power is, and for Sven Rosenkötter and Mirco Rappsilber, that is (again in their own phrasing) the ‘raw and reductive.’ In the end all we can say is we’ve not smitten in quite this way since discovering The Native Cats way back when. [go ROSI here]
SILENCE IN THE SNOW (Oakland, CA)
It’s notable, perhaps, that while referencing a ‘psych’ element in a post-punk band’s sound isn’t all that unusual – it has, after all, been there pretty much from the beginning in the form of Echo and The Teardrop Explodes and of course Siouxsie and can be found in these pages (and therefore much more recently) when reviewing Mayflower Madame among others – it remains at least mildly off-limits editorially to come right out and call a darkwave band ‘psychedelic,’ writers tending to be much comfortable swathing such observations is terms like ‘ethereal’ and ‘Cousteaus-like.’ But whatever the dyed-black hairs being split here (while also admitting that black and gothic grey wouldn’t really tie-dye all that well), when we’re talking about a band like Silence in the Snow all this nonsense really does become academic. Beauty, it would seem, at least such as Silence in the Snow manage to wring out of their minimal, two-person drummer-keyboardist/guitarist-vocalist line-up (Trevor DeSchryver and Cyn M, the latter also in Malditos), has a way of doing that, of sanding away the extraneous until the expansive, exquisitely human heart of the sound is all their is, as trembling as it unshakeable. [get your psych on here]
SOFT RIOT (Glasgow)
Sometimes, maybe even most times, one’s lineage stands behind one as a complicated shadow. For those of you with enough years on you and a long memory, you may have first heard of the artist now known as JJD when he went by his (presumably) given name Jack Duckworth and was a primary instigator in turn-of-the-century Vancouver BC post-punkers Radio Berlin. While we here at the SEM darkwave desk have a healthy appreciation for what was a very good band that very likely pre-dated themselves into a too-early demise – imagine trying to get traction in a ‘scene’ that got stars in its eyes for Franz Ferdinand and the Strokes (both fine bands, I saw them both more than once, but they were stuck in their own time straight out of the gate) – we also have to admit that we’re desperately grateful that, in this case, said complicated shadow has recast its hard-won lessons and inevitable disappointments into an inventive, powerfully propulsive sound profile that kicks around twinges of synthy EBM, hints of dark house, and twitches of industrial soundtrack inside a post-punky framework. Having upped sticks in the the wake of RB’s collapse and landed in Glasgow, JJD hasn’t only not looked back but seems one of those rare artists that can only survive if he’s plugged into an ever-evolving future. [riot with the Riot here]
What was and continues to be, as exemplified by Sonsombre, one of the coolest of the many cool things about goth was/is the absolutely unapologetic embrace of of ‘guitar music.’ I mean, if most of us are truthful (or perhaps ‘most of us of a certain age’), there’s little more viscerally satisfying than a good goddamned goth band that’s heavy of guitar dynamic (while, of course, being swathed in a baritoned darkness so rich and consuming one wonders how many human souls have been devoured over the length of a single track). That it’s also melodramatically melancholic, mournful and defiant in equal measure, with a dramatis personae that never betrays the least, umm, shadow of doubt in the serious reality of its performative character, is all part of what never fails to be a very moving prospect. And in Brandon Prybus, Sonsombre’s wide-brimmed centerpiece, the current early-21st c. goth community may well have its iconic north star. Already on their 3rd album since debut A Funeral For the Sun appeared on our darkened doorstep in 2018, it would seem, given the near-apocalyptic state of our world at the moment, that at the very least, Prybus won’t be wanting for inspiration. As bright sides go, it’s pretty dark, but then again, that’s how we like it. With guitars. [satisfy your eldritch jones here]
There could be no more clarion indicator of the breathless expansion in consciousness (if you will) that both the NEXT lists and their author has experienced over the years since beginning these columns than the appearance of Statiqbloom. See, when I happened into concocting these pieces some seven years ago or so, the chances of anything connected to industrial or EBM or tortured electronics of any kind were decidedly slim. Heavy synth, plenty of upfront bass, lugubrious vocals? Check, check, and check!! But out there closer to the frontiers of the extreme? Uh-uh. Fortunately, through such vital pals as Miles Jones and Victor Montes (the latter contributor-in-chief at Songs From Under the Floorboard, the little radio show I do on XRAY fm in Portland), my horizons have broadened and the playlists – on-air and personal – have berserked in all kinds of directions. Which brings us, with an unnaturally natural force, to Statiqbloom. A duo consisting of Fade Kainer and Denman C. Anderson (or simply FK // DA for those in an abbreviating mood), they’ve been perfecting their blend of ‘suffocating electronics,’ ominous, primeval vocals, and dystopian beats for some eight years now, shedding as they go the squeamish or weak of heart. Their newest full-length Beneath the Whelm comes roaring over the horizon July 20, 2020. Pre-order that roar and all that came before here.
TORUL (Ljubljana, Slovenia)
I may be mistaken – and I’m sorry but I’m not going to research this – but I believe Torul has the distinction of being the first NEXT band to harken from Slovenia. Now, we have some serious doubt that this is the case due to a lack of a scene, especially in the capital city where Torul reside. After all, the country that counts as its post-punk pioneers Borghesia with their heavy synth-wave and, before them, the still-going juggernaut Laibach, is almost constitutionally guaranteed to have birthed a tradition that is still finding adherents to this day. No, we’re guessing it’s down to lack of exposure, suspecting a fertile vein just waiting to be tapped. Until then, we’re more than happy to let this trio – themselves one of the country’s revival wave pioneers, having begun as a solo project in 1999 – stand in for the ‘Slovenian current-day darkwave scene.’ While defining themselves simply as an ‘indie synthpop electro band (which is fine as it is), we feel that undersells them a skosh, as their brand of ‘the sound’ has both the occasional undercurrent of menace and and in any case a depth that suggests something…darker, even as the DM romantic streak can’t be denied. Perfect way to find out for yourselves? Their 20-track retrospective compilation Teniversia has just been released on Infacted this year. That, and everything that contributed to it, can be had here.
TRUE BODY (Richmond, VA)
Unusual for any NEXT list to end with – or hell, even contain – two pretty much spanking new bands but, as by now too well (and sadly) -documented, 2020 is an unusual year, but that has nothing to do with the presence of this five-piece on the sixteenth NEXT list even though their debut just arrived this past April 3rd. The particular year, in fact, has little to do much of anything here. Whether we’re talking the character of the True Body sound – a moodily amorphous, seductively somber dreamstate of a sound that could locate anywhere this century or the second half of the last – or even the bare fact that their first record came out when it did, seeing as its gestation took the better part of five years (a span that included a 5-song demo, a split EP with Slump, and the moving “Over It” single, nine tracks overall, none of which appear on that recently released full-length). That seasoning, the simmering of experience, the building of belief in themselves as a unit, has resulted in a perceived confidence that’s as towering as it is unassuming. Such was their arrival (for this writer via the chosen video) on the Funeral Party-released Heavenly Rhythms for the Unitiated that the impression that True Body could have come sauntering with incipient purpose out of Manchester in the early-to-mid 80’s was all but inevitable. They have that driven naturalism about them, so much so we feel pretty damned confident in guaranteeing that you’ll fall immediately in love with them. Go here, get smitten.
THE WANTS (Brooklyn)
You can dance, you can jitter with nervousness, you can get sucked back in time – if only for an instance – to that time when Pylon and Gang of Four collaborated before realizing they never did, you can do all that and more in just the first twenty seconds of the selected track below and pretty much any of those off their (rather literally) breathtaking debut LP Containers that puckily blew open the doors March 3rd on the UK’s Council Records. Melding a stew of influences – Detroit techno (Andrew “Shake” Shakir’s Frictionalism gets a nod), ambient groove-ology of John Beltran and, take-no-shit intellectualism of Jenny Holzer – into an explosive economy of rhythmic structure that manages that tricky mix of being as tightly coiled as a Contortion on fire and as slithery loose as a drunken snake. As potent as anything we’ve heard this year, it’s worth noting that the most impressive piece of this trio’s achievement might be that the album is self-produced, the band walking fully their music’s DIY talk. Between them and the band just above (and, tbh, an unholy slew of new bands around the world), we can, beyond experiencing the sheer excitement in the content they’re producing, be both thrilled and assured that ‘the scene’ is indeed very hale and hearty indeed. Want what you Want.