The Soft Moon The Soft MoonZeros
Fire, smoke, nosebleeds, strange creatures fleeing through an abandoned warehouse, blood, tricky shadows and black veils. All of this can be seen in the magnificent video clip that The Soft Moon premiered for “Into The Depths” in the wake of the release of their self-titled debut album at the end of 2010. These days, when we are supposedly coming to the end of the world foreseen by the Mayan calendar, it makes more sense to listen to groups like Californian Luis Vasquez’s, which play so well with the element of fear (although in electronica, names like Kreng, Raime and Svarte Greiner come more quickly to mind, it’s true that there aren’t enough indies who use it). “The Soft Moon” displayed a post-punk sound darker than the night of a new moon, with dry drum-machines, single-chord guitars and phantasmagorical voices. It unfairly went a bit unnoticed, perhaps because it came so close in time to Cold Cave’s “Cherish The Light Years”, contemporaries of theirs with much more of a pop focus. Exactly a year ago, Vasquez released a new EP, “Total Decay”, which insisted on the same formula that they practiced in the debut, making it clear that the intention of the second album wasn’t to innovate at all, but rather to refine. With the arrival of “Zeros”, written and recorded on the road, unlike its predecessor, the perpetrators decided to come up with a collection of absorbing, primitive songs with the aid of producer Monte Vallier in his San Francisco studio (where they could turn up the volume as high as they wanted to, hit things, and shout at the top of their lungs).
There’s a lot of that in “Zeros”. From the opening piece, “It Ends”, we find the screams of a being that seems otherworldly, which then turns into the panting of a strange creature (maybe the one that is chasing the girl in “Into The Depths”). On other cuts, like “Insides”, you can hear lascivious shrieks that also seem to be the lament of someone dying. An almost apocalyptic aroma is also given off by “Die Life”, again with a use of distorted, distressing voices. Its sharp guitar line and penetrating bass keep you stuck to the floor, immobile, overcome by panic. There are also echoes of horror films in “Remember The Future”, a song with a motorik rhythm that would fit in perfectly with any John Carpenter film. Its interferences and those of “Crush” help to create extra intrigue and bad vibes. The sound at the end of “Lost Years” seeks to simulate that of alarms warning of a nuclear threat, and the ominous synthesizer of “Want” is pure horror film. After just over 30 minutes, the album comes to an end with “ƨbnƎ tI”, a spinback of the first cut, as if they wanted to bring us back to reality after half an hour in the depths of Hell. It is not at all a coincidence that their three important releases, the two albums and the EP in between, have all come out around Halloween.
One of the big criticisms that The Soft Moon have run into is that the almost complete lack of voices makes it difficult to get into their songs. But the entire preceding paragraph makes it clear that the Californians manage that perfectly well. If their intention is to create a sort of post-apocalyptic soundtrack, as the press releases suggest, they have hit the nail on the head. In “Zeros” the formula repeats itself. Those expecting lyrics per se should try other albums in a similar vein. In fact, there are barely verses here, and the ones that are present are hard to understand. Only in “Want”, with that “I want it, can’t have it”, can we be sure what Luis Vasquez is saying. In fact, we aren’t even sure that he is the one who is singing, and not some poor sod they have kidnapped. The voice is manipulated on each song to give that feeling of fear that we referred to above. If we often wonder whether it’s human or not, we also have to wonder about the sex, like in “Crush”, with a completely androgynous voice. At times the vocal line disappears completely, ( “Remember The Future”), and you don’t even miss it.
Some will also criticise this album for being too conservative, as it doesn’t contribute any new styles or offer stimulating twists. But we’re in the same situation again. Luis Vasquez has chosen to refine, and although it is true that they sound exactly the same as always, that is to say, the changes at work in the recording process don’t allow us to differentiate between “The Soft Moon” and “Zeros”, the truth is that one never feels that something new is missing. There are still those very dry drum-machines that seem like a punch in the face, harsh atmospheres, whirling synthesizers, occasional bursts of toxic sound, the smell of tar, those nervous guitars that are a legacy of Joy Division, percussion that at times sound like blows of a whip on a naked back, and at other times seem as if they are about to announce the arrival of a war battalion. They have remained faithful to their style, and one appreciates it. In fact, they haven’t let themselves be fooled by the sweetness of their (moderate) success, and the only, shall we say, more conventional moment is the title piece, which is still irresistible and even good for being included in a dance session. The Soft Moon have come back through the front door, and we hope that the Mayas are wrong and we’ll be around to enjoy them for a long time to come.