Written by: Dave Cantrell
SLIGHTER – V O I D (Confusion Inc)
We’ve been here before in the pages of SEM, discussing how even if you’re not familiar with Slighter you almost certainly are without knowing it, given the prominence of the artist’s music in a number of television shows et al as delineated in that link above, but we’ve never quite been here before with Slighter. V O I D, paradoxically enough, pulses to its very core with – not to get too Zen about it – the fullness of all that its creator Colin Cameron has to offer in this moment, a veritable sound quasar of ‘promise realized’ to an extent we’d not have guessed possible. Nor would we have bothered guessing, really, as nothing’s ever felt the least lacking in the nuance-rich, twitchingly cinematic darktronica that’s come before it. But before we go anywhere further in explaining ourselves here, a critical tip: listen to this album, the first time at least, inside your best headphones. Definitely the surest way into the immersive depth of the experience, into that place where it’s not completely clear whether V O I D is living inside your head or you inside its (more on that in a minute).
Now, ask any darkwave aesthete of any stripe – goth, EDM, industrial, straight-up post-punk, the swath is wide – what it is that attracts them to a music where gloom pestilence and paranoia often predominate and likely central to their response will be the allure of – the joy in, even – the prospect of dread, a quality that not only bears the weight of honesty, reflecting as it does the true state of affairs pestering the edges of our consciousness every waking minute, but comports almost to a point of comfort with their own emotional state, whether arrived at via the waved wand of genetics or that hapless geo-political stew of power greed and intolerance just mentioned that we’re all swimming in or, more than likely, a combination thereof. As a soundtrack to that all-consuming backdrop you could not only not do worse that V O I D we’re persuaded that you could very possibly not do better. Ever.
Drawing us in, into the deep inexorable, quite literally sheathed in darkness if an inviting, transfixing one, “Broken Unknown,” featuring the clear, calm, unflinching spoken word vocal of R.A. Desilets who in essence is offering, like a sibyl, her outstretched hand as a trusted guide into this seeming doomscape – the atmosphere broodingly beautiful, dark as pitch – that nonetheless seduces, we can’t turn away, as if being shown the most tenebrous corners of our imagination where we dare not go and yet, here, given exactly that opportunity, daren’t not go. And this, we suggest, is key to the power Slighter’s work exudes, a power derived to some extent from that word ‘immersive’ above but frankly it’s more dimensional than that, more, if you will, symbiotic. The response to what one hears – and, while always the case in everything Slighter we’re heard heretofore, even more intrinsically the case with V O I D – feels a doubly subliminal one, the strata of intuition between composer and listener merged, shared in real if suspended time. Anything that crosses, and, really, subsumes that border between the external and internal, between what you crave and what you fear, between how you think you’re perceived and how you think you feel, well, that more or less defines ‘existential mystique.’ You don’t resist that and in fact don’t even try. Put another way, the music Slighter creates flows across the conceptual blood/brain barrier not only without deleterious effect but rather a robustly delirious one, and that’s nowhere truer than on this record. Let us sample.
“Oblivion,” tasked with following the evocative stun of that opener, moodily succeeds with little trouble by going its own accretive way, layer seeping upon layer as it shudders with a a nervous haunted energy, its heartbeat beat holding it together until, eventually, those outward surfaces begin to peel away into the title’s clutches. Couple tracks later, as per its name, “Complicit,” with its burgeoning footfall rhythm that becomes a steady run – it’s easy to picture someone being chased, an impression compounded by a breathing whoosh of synth – implicates us all in the mortal predicament we’re living in, Cameron muttering with intent the inextinguishable catch line “innocence is dangerous” which we’re here to guarantee you will sneak back in and take over your mind maybe later this afternoon, maybe months from now or some random moment in 2024 at which point you will smile and welcome it back while feeling edgy in equal measure. Another skip forward and the almost inevitably titled “Entropy” emerges as if from a disintegrating fog, miasmic, deeply sonorous, “the madness inside” pouring out of the song in waves of bleak delirium (our favorite kind!) while album-ender and title track of sorts “The Void,” featuring a vocal turn from bodegaBLVCK and the record’s longest cut at nearly eight-and-a-half minutes, oscillates with something of a temporal, restrained mania from a sinister matter-of-factness (“to kill the void/is to kill your soul‘) to a glancing exoticism with the added bonus of a Frippy ghost of electric guitar helping carry it to silence, could be conceivably be heard as an up-to-this-moment summation of Slighter’s oeuvre (an arty word this artist has earned), strung as it is on a tension wire between an uneasy calm and a fraught, well-earned cynicism such as we all should share if we’re paying the least attention. It, and the album it finishes, is, in a phrase, a record of our times.
As always we only touch on a handful of tracks to give a representative framework but do rest assured that, as is a hallmark of Cameron’s work in general, V O I D presents as a lucid and wholly complete work. And whereas no one would suggest this is a ‘pop’ record – that would be absurd – it’s no less the case that this latest effort lures with perhaps the most universal bent thus far in what’s becoming a lengthy career under the Slighter moniker. Tense, fluid, incredibly focused, futuristic but not really – this future is now – V O I D at its heart radiates with a febrile humanity. It’s not a great stretch to imagine these being the sounds Roy Batty is hearing as he slips into that void of the hereafter drenched in dark rain and neon. [enter the V O I D here]
HALLOWS – All That is True” (Cold Transmission Records)
When a band names themselves HALLOWS you expect a certain haunted quality, you expect intensity, you expect, perhaps, a notable degree of depth. What you can’t be guaranteed of is, well, how good they might be. Names, like talk, can be cheap but talent is a whole ‘nother commodity. On that score, this particular HALLOWS, formed by duo Dom and Vanee in Minneapolis in 2018 before being drawn to current home Seattle, lay to shadowy rest any uncertainty on this stirring debut full-length (the not-so-subtle Subtle EP appeared a little over a year ago) via the calling card-like “Out of Time” that opens the album. Synth-drenched, with an oddly syncopated rhythm that’s instantly addictive, it’s an instrumental that in its brief seventy-seven seconds takes you on a quick dark flight that’s half sci-fi half Lugosi and all the way compelling af. By design, of course, an intro such as that is meant to hook the listener in to the album entire and from the sly wink of its title – clever temporal reference? Apocalyptic nod? – to the concise intrigue of its sound, it succeeds so easily the pair have you in their pocket for the rest of the record. You’ll seldom have been so grateful.
Remarkably well-produced by the band and Aaron C. Schraeder – you’ll swoon, we promise – All That is True, in composition, vocal dynamics, in just pure dark suss, presents with such steady-handed assurance the fact it counts as the band’s debut confounds to the point of a double check, as if it must be some sort of clerical error. You listen to the nominal title track “All That is True Dies,” its synthy synthesis of elements, its deft genre-transcendent moodiness that we’ll call gloomy elegance, the trade and/or mesh of voices in near unreal complement; to the otherworldly heft – and just plain weight – of “Defeated” as it’s balanced by the almost eerily light synth line weaving through it like a strand of lost gossamer; to the Vanee-sung “Nothing,” its disturbed pop (classicist melody included) sounding like, ahem, nothing less than a 21st C. femme-fronted Jesus & Mary Chain; to the seamless play of soft/forceful contrasts that make “Our Failures” a likely first-listen favorite or “Silence”‘s just as attention-grabbing club-driven rhythms propelling a hook full of trance and mystique that runs the length of the track, and what you hear is a band in unquestioned command of its myriad talents, giving an impression that finesse is but second nature to them even as you know they sweated and cursed and fussed over these songs like the devoted artists the strength and instinctual spark of the material confirms they are.
As we all understand, in order to gain the listener’s full appreciation, some records need room and time to breathe. Others do not, not at all. In fact, records such as All That is True are imbued with such levels of presence and immediacy they’d breathe for you if needed, which is a good thing as this is one of those albums that may well take your breath away. [All That is True available here]
JASON PRIEST – “Jason Priest is Missing” (Midnight Mannequin Records)
History would probably show that it’s not so unusual that a brand new label’s first ever release is a debut full-length but it may well be more than a bit stingier in providing examples of such that are this bristling with this level of knowingness and fire, of promise and power being made so immediately manifest. There are reasons for this we’ll get to momentarily but should you be one of those that only reads the lede then moves on just know that …is Missing is, darkwave-wise, the king’s and queen’s bollocks wrapped in gold-threaded raw silk and topped with shiny onyx that you should not only make time for but also some room on your vinyl shelf as this is one of those albums the possession of which in physical form is pretty much compulsory.
Jason Priest, or rather the person in the guise of who friends and fam refer to as Antoni Maiovvi, might be known to those in a certain know as co-founder of the influential Giallo Disco label or for his appearance on various titles under the Death Waltz Originals imprint but here he’s an entirely different animal, prowling the often lurid – i.e. irresistibly inviting – corners and alleyways of the post-punk/synthpop milieu, leather of jacket and wildly dilated of pupil, self-fetishizing and clutching at desperate dreams inside his fevered heart the same as everyone around him in the blindingly dark, bunker-like clubs of some lost Gotham. If that strikes you as fanciful in some way, well, it is and it isn’t. By all appearances here, Miaovvi is not just unabashedly aware of the breadth – and therefore potential – of his talent but is equally cognizant of the pull of a seductive backstory, one with just the right soupçon of mystery and fleeting mythos to give the project a double-coated patina of believable intrigue. This Mr Priest, you see, is a living breathing singing paradox, a man out of time that’s stuck like a glowing spark to the smoldering mess of the moment, a cipher unraveling right before our eyes slash ears. It’s a brilliant approximation that, not least due the sheer – and shearingly intense – quality of the songwriting and production, doesn’t simply transcend but destroys any sense of pretense from the very off.
Inhabiting, to full effect and without dalliance, the resurrected British-born Priest persona that’s just survived a decade in NYC that began in 1982 with unalloyed hope, youthful vigor, and a fresh record contract but veered almost immediately into a spiraling fog of meth and alcohol addiction, the record finds him back in London, focused, inspired, reborn. With that as his prompt Maiovvi embraces the blur between artifice and its opposite and erases it with force. The distinction is non-existent and, like most such artful distinctions, probably never mattered in the first place. From the creeping synth intro of “When the Clown Cries” on its way to irreducible post-punk banger status to the nettle of unsettled existential energy that characterizes last track “Dead Again” where Maiovvi’s deep experience with horror soundtracks is perhaps most evident, we are undistractedly immersed in character to the point we don’t care and it couldn’t matter less.
Between those two poles we’re treated to, among others, the Mode-y throb and drive of “Be Thankful, Billy,” the damn near experimental dance floor electro feel of “Robes,” “Gone Upstairs”‘s joyous clash of the frantic and the restrained, the curious dichotomy of “The Power,” shadowy yet ebullient, a guaranteed floor-filler that’s nevertheless moody and deflecting, pulsing and shimmering to the limit with resilience and enigma.
Though ‘only’ eight tracks in all, they hover on average around the five-minute mark as if finessing the difference between an album cut and its 12″ dance mix, never flagging for even an instant as Maiovvi, even the scenarist, ensures they each are exactly as long as they’re meant to be to retain their maximal impact. Through it all the zest and sincerity of the revived Jason Priest presides, and yet despite that dramatic personae aspect …is Missing sounds to us as real a record as we’ve encountered half way through this odd year of (coincidence?) recovery. It is, we reckon, at the very least bound to be one of 2021’s most astonishing first releases from a new label. [find Jason Priest is Missing here] [Feature image courtesy the author]