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TRIPTYCH INTO DARKNESS – GIRLFRIENDS AND BOYFRIENDS “Fallacy of Fairness” / CHILD OF NIGHT “The Walls at Dawn” / KOIKOI “Pozivi u strana”



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GIRLFRIENDS AND BOYFRIENDS “Fallacy of Fairness” (Oráculo Records / FDH Records)

Every one of us leaves a legacy trailing behind us like some tatterdemalion shadow but there are a relative few that create one with the word ‘lasting’ attached to it. Be it via art or infamy or mere inheritance, the prospect that any of us will be long remembered past our mortal pull date by those beyond our immediate circle is not a promising one. Life’s a busy seething thing, noisily cluttered to a point past measurement, so rife with distraction that even having your voice heard meaningfully inside a single moment of the present echoes with the faint hopelessness of shouting into the void. On the other hand, however, create something of immediately lasting value as Vancouver BC’s Girlfriends and Boyfriends have done here with Fallacy of Fairness and, at least on this count, you can rest easy. If they ever did in the first place, the quartet responsible for this richly realized piece of work, Grant Minor (bass vox synth guitars), Peter Panovic (guitars synths), Ben Lowe (guitars), and Ian Pierre Cardona (drums), have no more worries in the legacy department.

While not free of influences – who is, no one, end of discussion – it’s not a case of how plainly they’re worn on G&B’s collective sleeve but rather the virtuosity and elegance with which they’re woven. One is not meant to miss, for example, the luminescent Smithsian shadow vibrating above opener “Memento Mori” nor the dark sparkling Headmasterly, Ritualistic jangle and damn near semi-funk bass of “Dirty Words” but rather to let the heart marvel as is its wont when a track like that, either of those, comes flooding through one’s ears with a shearing brilliance and ease, bringing with it an unalloyed joy. And excitement. And pure fucking blissful love, i.e. ‘all the feels,’ as they say. There’s a lot of that available here, distributed throughout with what feels a generosity of spirit. Some records just give and give, and, if they’re like Fallacy of Fairness, give some more.

Witness, for instance, the barely restrained exuberance of the “Kid”-like guitar run that springboards “Forever By My Side” into existence, bringing, to this listener anyway, the same quantity and quality of gooseflesh wonderment as did Honeymoon-Scott those many years ago, and not simply nor even primarily due its resemblance to some nostalgic thrill ride but far more because –  and this is important – how it serves the song. It’s a knack, an act of reflexive intuition this band has always displayed – this is G&B’s third full-length since 2010 – with an almost wicked nonchalance. That it’s been spun up to a level of utter delirium on their latest doesn’t surprise us of course but does have us reaching deep into our bag of superlatives.

As if overlaying something of an industrial throb with a flitting synth pop figure then mitigating that tension with a couple Echoesque guitars flares wasn’t enough, “Your Touch” really reaches for – and nabs – the gold ring when Minor’s vocal melody enters the mix, the song overall pretty much a 5-minute hook while “Ride With Me,” ringing with both mystery and clarity, would seem to be intent on taking the roots of the Paisley Underground and dragging them lovingly backward into the fertile soils found a few years previous, so complete and imperishable is its timeless sound. And that’s really the thing, isn’t it? No one’s asked to rewrite the book of established psalms but taking the sacred templates and giving them a good solid modern polishing is and has always been a blessing for the ears, for the damned soul (hell, “Heaven Help Me,” with a vocal assist from Lindsay Leigh Dakin, takes a soul-stomp yearning that’s half Yaz half Orange Juice, layers on a scythe of G&B guitar magic and voila!, insta-classic!)

In essence, then, your takeaway here is that while you’ll note the presence of some select precursors as this album spins its way toward your heart, you’ll never have heard anything that actually sounds quite like Fallacy of Fairness, nor, for that matter, many that have sounded anywhere near this good. Late-in-the-year release, this is nonetheless (and regardless of genre) one of 2021’s best, the satisfaction it brings a thrill. But hey, don’t believe me, believe your ears. This thing’s a marvel. [go here for your just reward]

CHILD OF NIGHT “The Walls at Dawn” (Beso de Muerte Records)

There aren’t enough records being made like this. Even in the unfathomably rich and varied torrent currently swamping the multi-waved world in beautiful ruin and tides of pummeling darkness, records like this one are preciously scarce. Moody, particular, hewing to its own dark light and wholly unafraid of demanding your attention, The Walls at Dawn from Columbus OH’s Child of Night (aka C.O.N.) is the type of work that doesn’t simply demand further listens and doesn’t simply reward those further listens but draws one in to its own uniquely evocative universe, a sphere of atmosphere that drifts with purpose through the shadowy, the unsettling, the ecstatic, the, at times, joyously on edge. While not easy to put your finger (or even a handful of fingers) on, there’s a rare quality to The Walls, one that however described feels quietly hard-won. It’s a perception girded by context when scanning back over C.O.N’s output since first emerging in 2017. To the degree that there’s validity to the discography-as-biography overview, there’s at least an inkling of a tale to tell.

That emergence, a mere four years ago, came in the form of the Breathless EP, a thing swirling with portent and potential. It may not have unleashed a deluge of attention their way – this gothy world of ours was already well-inundated by then – but to anyone that happened upon it that debut spoke its requisite volumes to a dynamic, deadset force emanating from the very-est dead center heart of Ohio (a state, by the way, that’s no stranger to the stranger sounds coming from its basements and attics thanks to the outbreak of your Pere Ubus, Devos, Tin Hueys etc back in the groundbreaking yore of the late 70s). From there, through the next year’s What Remains – Sirens” off that release is a must-listen so go do that if you’ve not heard it; we’ll wait – the remix EP nada segrado the year after that then the essential placeholder Reduced to Ash from last April that was grounded in the dark industria of “Dirtworld” along with five separately authored remixes and a lengthy trance-formative live rendition that set their well-established bona fides on fire, their trajectory was one earmarked by what seems an inextinguishable flame of self-belief and a steadily increasing command of their sound, a kind of tribal urban beast that doesn’t shy away from – and fact often leans into – emotion and vulnerability. It was also one that set them on a crash course with (much deserved) wider recognition, a fortuitous happenstance as the more that hear The Walls at Dawn (technically the band’s debut full-length) the happier the world will be in the face of the ever-increasing darkness, or at the very least feel less alone.

As if awakening at the break of a fraught, silver-grey dawn, the record opens inside an aura defined by a kind of ritual drone vocal and a barren but electric soundscape, the track, “Aurora,” seeming to be a dreaming of the type place where reality itself comes encased in a whispered but encompassing blanket of reverb. Specific details aside, however, that the band chose this as the first door one walks through underscores the confidence C.O.N. has in their vision (a somewhat pompous word, we admit, but the right one regardless) and the extent to which they privilege what they do as art first and commerce, well, second.

In this context it’s as little a surprise that the second track on Walls is called “Unafraid” as it is that same word suggesting itself at the top of this review prior to your humble (and perhaps a bit rushed) correspondent bothering to take note of the song titles. In the event, the cut that carries that name takes the canny mystique of its predecessor deeper into the fens, urban as they be by nature, as both its pace and tone hint at furtive movement through a late night underworld metropolis, its rhythm akin to that of mercury-vapor lights on a deserted expressway interspersed by buffers of utter darkness. A bit of an atmospheric tour-de-force, it also sets a mood not easily shaken which, thankfully by this point, you’ll have no interest in anyway.

Offering slightly more space but just as tense, sung in duo and tandem by N Aquena and T Wolfe (J Thompson being the third member), “Wounded Child” is the breaking and ultimate survival of a defiant heart, the gauzy dark “Disappear” unleashes an oblique dance energy that gently thrashes against the claustrophobia inherent while “Son,” lengthy and almost innocent in its yearning melody and subdued rhythmic structure, materializes as if from a chrysalis to reveal perhaps the album’s most harrowing – which is to say beautiful, crushingly so – vocal hook, quite the achievement given the competition. Closing out the record, the title-track-of-sorts “Walls,” spellbindingly deliberate like a surge constantly on its own brink, surrounds its central refrains “let me go” and “I can’t explain” with a sharp haze of darkwave tropes awash in what we can only think to call the ‘unmistakably unique C.O.N. mystique.’ It is, in a sense, a summation of the enthrallment that has come before it.

An achingly gorgeous record, The Walls at Dawn doesn’t just walk us into the band’s vividly sepia-toned world but simultaneously attaches to them the ‘force to be reckoned with’ label which we fully expect they’ll wear with suitable aplomb. [find your mystique here]

KOIKOI “Pozivi u stranu” (Moonlee Records)

As it transcends language and culture, economic status and skin color, music – the arts in general though I feel music has an edge – is politics in its truest most hopeful form. If, both within and across borders, we could somehow set policy according to chords and lyrical structures. time changes and crucial rhythm patterns (not to mention harmonies, duh), this world couldn’t help but be a happier place. A fanciful notion, to be sure, but at the same time I don’t believe the notion that one would prefer one’s fellow citizens dancing in the streets rather than marching through them would be met with much argument. At the very least it’s worth a try seeing as nothing else seems to work and as initial ambassadors of this cockamamie plan I nominate the four members of Serbian band KOIKOI, as the noise they make is not just irresistible, brimming with the joy of being made even at its most somber, but exudes a core universality at every turn.

Formed in Belgrade in 2017, a decision appears to have been made from the off – whether consciously or intuitively who knows – to cross boundaries at will while maintaining a firm, and not rarely fierce, grip on a central bass-based tenet that at a casual, historical glance connects them to the Kleenex/LiLiPuT-ESG axis even as they not infrequently detour into what, when taking an album-wide view, amounts to a suitably polyglot approach, one that betrays a wondrous stew of left field influences, the bulk of which many if not most of their peers in the wider post-punk world, as it is an already diverse and generally adventurous lot, would reflexively shy away from. This feature alone makes KOIKOI a fascinating proposition. The fact they blow even our adjusted expectations clear out of the water on the regular throughout Pozivi u stranu – their debut full-length, by the way – isn’t simply a bonus, it’s a goddamned revelation.

Growing slowly out of the silence like a gradual awakening, a two-note sustain of guitar approaching through a fog of synth, first cut “Ogledalo je zrcalo” (“The Mirror is a Mirror” according to Google) soon bursts forth with a subtly majestic force, the drums crashing in as ‘that’ bass begins instantly teasing out the track’s backbone melody with a sonorous authority that is guaranteed to freeze you in your tracks, immediately transfixed if not, we dare say, awestruck. Whether meant or not, the track, at once tight and expansive, taut but loose, strikes like a declaration of intent, one that suggests this band fears nothing, endowed with a confidence to go where a song leads them even if it’s outside the anticipated boundaries of whatever genre the listener assigns them.

With its flute-y synth intro weaving its way through and around first one then a pair of airy female vocals, “Dodol” drawing on Serbian folk, is damn near Canteburian in feel, the hazy rural sally that introduces “Misispi” prior to it careening into something of a sprawling, if hyper-kinetic banger is a daring gambit that works not only because its so refreshingly odd in its way but also feels wholly organic, “Hangar” evolves seamlessly from minimalist to tightly-controlled overdrive without, shall we say, losing a single beat, while “Karolina”‘s motorik and seductive dance club pop and throb, beautiful though it be, is pure audio crack.

Diverse and dynamically so, the further beauty of Pozivi u stranu beyond its clear material strengths is that one detects not the slightest hint of a designed intention in that regard. Nothing feels the least ‘forced’ about this record. Instead, every indication would suggest that KOIKOI comes by this range honestly. Curious, dexterous, able, this is a band with the level of self-belief that allows them to set an epic eight-minute title track dead center at the the heart of the running order, a potentially risky move on any album much less a debut and yet, by virtue of the song drawing you through its multiple sections with such deft torque not only is the plot not lost it rewrites itself right in front of your ears, they pull it off with a nervy nonchalance.

KOIKOI’s palette, in short, is a satisfyingly rich one, the composition of this entire record, its every line and shade, making for a singular robust piece. More, please, and then more again. [you need this, so get it here]