Written by: Dave Cantrell
SPECTRA*paris “Modernism” (Dependent)
Challenges. Challenges and joy. Challenges, joy, and excitement. You best be prepared to accept a dizzying, often bewildering brew of all three overtaking your senses if your plan is to put pen to paper (in whatever form) and write about music. ‘But wait,’ we can already hear you saying, “Challenge, sure, we get that, that means there’s some work involved. But ‘joy’ and ‘excitement’? Why should we worry about those? Those sound great!’ Well, yes, of course they are and indeed they’re the ingredients that make this process most rewarding but, one, in this gig anyway, you can’t get to the last two without going through the ‘challenge’ stage, and two, ‘joy and excitement’ are distracting, they tend to tempt one away from the page and into the mist, the ether, into some form of ecstasy. And ecstasy, as everyone knows, is the opposite of work. Thus one seeks that shifty balance that’s essentially an act of simultaneously staying on track while, to some extent, losing track, of yourself, where you are, all that. In workshops years ago I came to call this ‘the gaining control of the letting go’ and, in truth, it’s become as much a reflex as anything but some artists, some albums, make that equilibrium more difficult to maintain. Enter Modernism by SPECTRA*paris.
The off-shoot yet full-on project of some on-and-off fifteen years by long time Kirlian Camera vocalist Elena Alice Foss – her second since joining that legendary Italian crew; check those Sideratica sides from the early aughts – there’s something next level about Modernism, released by Dependent August 26th. As with any such claim, the particulars can prove somewhat elusive, it being a ‘feel’ thing and all, but if there’s anything we trust in this life it’s our instincts and those are telling us to tell you ‘We ain’t lyin’.’ And we ain’t. The proof, after all, is all right there in the spirit and skill animating track after track, in their sound that takes the attributes ‘sharp’ and ‘lush’ and blurs them into a singular entity (Fossi co-producing with KC majordomo Angelo Bergamini), in the wide variety of moods all corralled into a cohesive, organic whole. Viewed in its tightly presented entirety, it’s the type work that invites the word ‘breathtaking’ without really seeming to try, which is key.
Past a brief, playfully esoteric prologue (“Flying Onlookers”), ostensible opener “Devious,” its tone one of a deftly-tuned gravitas, serves as an alluringly seductive invitation to the album entire, suffused with the tension and beauty that should be expected when a dark pulse exudes such a vivid inner light. Memorable and irresistible enough to question its placement at the head of the tracklist, that’s not a worry here. You can’t, after all, overshadow when nearly all those behind you stand as tall.
“Moondrops” cruises along with a buoyancy that could have it backdropping one off those sunny videos from yesteryear where we’d all be driving space cars in a future very different from the one we inhabit, Fossi’s vocal negotiating a suitably timeless melody before “Infection Party” switches gears and turns down darker byways, taking us into far more fraught climes even as its hooks remain as irrepressible as ever. The devilishly-titled “Poison Fresh,” meanwhile, mixes the enchanting with the menacing with such ease you’d be pardoned for thinking them twins at birth. And that’s the thing with this album. The balancing of moods is so effortlessly deft throughout Modernism‘s near-hourlong running time that the breadth of variety could easily be overlooked. That would be a shame, as it’s that exact quality that makes it such a commanding piece of work.
As conundrums go it’s a lovely one, one no better illustrated than on the Fakeba-sung, electro-house highlight “MOroDERN” skimming along the shiny immortal edges of that namesake inspiration tucked into its title with a stunning individuality that could not be more respectful of that acknowledgment. If that don’t do it for ya – hard to imagine but in any case – try either of the next two. “Indigo Cypher” is all sleek soul with an otherworldly shimmer providing a constant undercurrent as Fossi lures you ever deeper into its dark mysterious center while the more or less operatic ballad “Vacanza Roman” damn near qualifies as a torch song though one with both fleeting Bond themes and a Casio airiness floating in its midst all inside a layer of production that’s even more stunning than usual if that’s even possible which it probably isn’t.
We could go on another seven-hundred-fifty words which is to say we can’t say enough about this record so we’ll just tell you this and leave it in your hands: Modernism is one of your favorite albums of the year, even if you haven’t heard it yet. [get your digital or CD-based Modernism here]
SOCIAL STATION “In The Fallout” (self-released)
There’s little we admire more in this wonderfully dark corner of the music world than the band or artist that, certain of their worth, the value of their work, keeps at it despite having neither a drably majestic image to turn people’s heads nor any particular amount of torque being exerted their way by the overly-greased hype machine. Which means we admire a countless amount of projects since the vast majority of you in this community fit that description, a fact that, we think, speaks as much as anything (not counting for the moment just how crazy effin great the music itself is) to why we’re so fiercely in love with this scene of ours in the first place. We know and recognize that all these musicians persevere for the pure love of the form beyond, well, all else but especially beyond any sort of blind ambition. To put it in a phrase, there is this sort of unassuming confidence in these bands/artists that is inspiring in its steadfastness and among this writer’s favorites under that banner, as has been the case for some while now, is Washington DC’s Social Station.
The work of Paul Todd and son Jacob Sebastian with new addition – and Jacob’s sister – Natalie Simona injecting fresh creative energy (that’s also her on the cover), this second album after 2020’s self-titled debut cements their place ever more resolutely amidst these splendid ruins we affectionately call ‘home’. Presenting with the usual lush consistency, Jacob’s bass if anything – hard as this is to believe if you’ve ever seen them live – now an even more crucial linchpin, its immense agility simultaneously immersive and upfront while Paul’s guitar and vox etc bathe the tracks with the necessarily somber grace to, basically, bring the dark dream alive.
With a cathedral-esque synth providing a sepulchral entrance, first track “Never Free” (music and lyrics partly authored by Natalie) swiftly opens the lid and takes flight, if one whose restless flurry remains contained inside its gothic structure, trapped and beating its wings up under the vaulted ceiling as per its title. There’s this odd contradictory spirit to it that feels, in equal measure, claustrophobic and expansive which, now we think of it, is no surprise as it’s the source of tension this band has practiced from the start and have, by this point, damn near perfected.
Go anywhere on In The Fallout and hear that delicious push and pull between the tug of darkness and the insistence of its opposite, as if the band are intent on exhuming light from the clutches of the pitch black. It’s there in the way the bass and a bright layer of synth on the more-or-less title track “Fallout” provide an almost soothing blanket for the personal – and rather unsparing – emotionalism of the lyrics; in the calmly racing mojo that upholds the similarly dire “All of a Sudden (Dear Lord); in “Secrets to Be Heard” that drew the jotted-down comment “mournful in that uplifting way we all love” in this review’s pre-scan phase; in the outright rhythmic playfulness (of a sort) that attends “Into the Hold.”
All this maintained balance isn’t a gimmick or a trick of a trademark, it’s instead the essence of craft, that simple ask the process asks that is in fact a damnably difficult task. That Social Station have come this far in mastering it isn’t just to their credit – though yes, it sure as fuck is that – it’s also to be celebrated. There’s nothing easy about any of this. That Paul and Jacob and the added Natalie make it seem exactly that – In The Fallout pretty much just pours out of the speakers – leaves us a bit speechless and a whole lot happy. [fall into In The Fallout in all the preferred formats here]
postlooperish “Wistful” (self-released)
There can be joy in consternation. How, you ask? Well, probably in myriad ways but the one I can point to with some authority is this one: imagine you’re a writer/DJ that, while sufficiently versed in a fairly wide swath of the ‘rock music’ spectrum, has a particularly acute jones for all things post-punk/darkwave and its host of variations. With that jones, of course, comes the somewhat unquenchable desire to hear just about everything new in that genre class as you can no matter that its practitioners have so fully proliferated to literally every corner of the planet that any mortal chance of ever ‘catching up’ is laughable from the jump. Regardless, to that aim, fate even goes so far as to send you a partner-in-curiosity named Victor Montes, whose avid, never-resting tentacles seem to be stretched three-hundred-sixty twenty-four-seven and yet even between the two of you the task remains so impossibly herculean we may as well prostrate ourselves to the same gods that birthed the Sisters and all their brethren and hope they have mercy upon our souls. But. BUT. Redemption actually is possible and it looks like this: because one is so daily overwhelmed by the plethora of beatitudes coming from places like Estonia and Malaysia and Modesto and the infinity of points in between you are A) forgiven all your trespasses into what is, really, nothing but an honest, I’m-only-human ignorance and B) accorded moments of new-discovery astonishment for which the word ‘sublime’ was surely invented. At this point do we find ourselves somewhere in New York City at the doorstep of one Jeremy Discenza, the boundless, seemingly out-of-nowhere talent behind the curiously named – and lower-cased – postlooperish.
So-named due his inveterate passion for post-punk – the guy was born not long after the Cure first landed on John Peel – then lashing that love to the guitar pedal central to his work then finishing with the ‘ish’ in deference to an honest genre uncertainty, Discenza in his postlooperish guise, in an uneventfully sensational manner, emerged some ten months ago as perhaps the discovery of 2022, one that’s also proven to be bloody prolific with what seems a nonchalant ease. First came the “Strange Eyes” single in February, then in June came Wistful where I first got wind of him (thanks to Victor), then three EPs/mini-LPs since then. All self-recorded in his home studio, the result has me thinking that, at last, like some errant post-punk Ponce de Leon, I’ve stumbled upon that mythical font of dark-souled bliss I’ve always dreamed of. This is, to put it simply, the kind of stuff we all live for.
“Baseline” – admittedly a sensible place to begin – lifts Wistful off into immediate, pulsing life, unleashing an exuberance touched, rather inevitably, by what we’re choosing to call an ethereal gloom, an impression primarily guided by that icy layer of whoa-oh backing vocals but, whatever the case, at a concise two minutes thirty-one it’s as bracing, accomplished and attention-pulling as any launch track we’ve heard in a precious long while. And really that’s true front to back here, to the point you’ll have to keep reminding yourself this is, in essence, the postlooperish debut you’re listening to.
“Classic Ways,” Cure-touched and relentless, mines, well, exactly what it’s title suggests it would and to dizzying effect (not to mention also clocking in, rather curiously, at 2:31), “Hashmarks,” coming in at almost four minutes, delves into deeper moods while nonetheless being imbued with a saturating light, the whole thing hazed by swirls of passing dread and your standard existential doubt (interpretation: it’s wonderful!), “Never Around,” delicately heavy, lurches down the hallway as if under hypnosis at dusk while closing track “Singularity” – a nod perhaps to Discenza’s day job as a scientist – finds itself carried along by that peculiar tension wherein a relatively sedate rhythm somehow hurdles forward in something of a slow-motion hurry, meandering with a laser-like focus. A beauty, as they all are, it hangs past its gloaming finish like a memory of a dream you just can’t quite get clear of and, really, if we’re all honest, that’s pretty much exactly what we all love about this sound, this style.
Hobby-wise, postlooperish is all Discenza does, what he lives for, which places it in the realm of a passion project, one that, thanks to a pure nascent talent operating at a clearly elevated level, makes it a joy to behold for those lucky enough to hear it. We cannot more strongly suggest you be one of them. [get Wistful and all things postlooperish here]