One of those (often pointless) rhetorical exercises music reviewers engage in is asking themselves this question: “What would [album under review] be the perfect soundtrack for?” Hopefully the answer presents itself quickly in the form of a pithy pull quote to lead off the review (“the perfect soundtrack for an overcast day burying bodies at the beach”). If the resulting answer is not pithy enough, it can usually be squeezed in towards the end as some sort of summary to go along with the arbitrary scoring system (“the perfect soundtrack for those tired of perfect soundtracks… 8/13”).
The point of bringing up this pointless exercise is this: what do you do with a band whose recorded output would seem to lend itself to soundtracks but defies being pigeonholed into that vague area so many electronic artists find themselves in, which is often defined as “soundtracks for movies that don’t exist?”
The Soft Moon (Luis Vasquez) debuted last year with a self-titled album that sounded miles away from the sort of imagery that “Bay Area artist” would tend to bring with it. It sounded less San Fran than overcast Britain, home of a million post-punkers shedding their 90-second anger for the less immediate thrills of claustrophobic goth clubs and the expansive progressions of Can-blasting and space rocking.
But the “soundtrack” aspect keeps rearing its malformed and non-descriptive head, if only because the Soft Moon make music that, while having a distinct beginning and ending, does not really fit the narrative description of a “song,” which is usually a self-contained unit of music (for lack of better terms).
Saying Vasquez is conveying “moods” or “atmosphere” tends to lump him in with a million ambient artists, many of whom are interested in nothing more than wallpapering your brain, rather than engaging you at any point. But the Soft Moon does engage. It’s phenomenally evocative music. Sure, it does most of its evoking in dimly lit areas under the cover of fog, but still, it’s far from being just another coldwave construct that’s heavier on minor chords than ideas.
Total Decay is only 4 tracks but it covers a lot of ground. Repetition rides a bassline into Killing Joke territory accompanied by various noise clawing their way to the surface, culminating in an all-hell-breaking-loose-possibly-directly-underneath-you sonic assault.
Alive nods towards Joy Division with bass that could only be considered “portentous” and a drum machine that could only be considered “mechanical,” much in the way that Joy Division’s actual human drummer often resembled an implacable cyborg of ruthless efficiency.
Total Decay lives up to its name, painting a sonic picture so bleak you’d immediately bury the artwork deep in the attic and hope that it didn’t start aging on its own. The vocals are a washed-out scream delivered via wormhole and the electronics slowly gather their forces and cut the power before storming the gates.
Visions wraps up the EP with the kind of drum circle you’d actually like to see gather on your lawn, if only because they’d disembowel the original protesting drum circle which reeked of patchouli and Sharpies. If your resistance hasn’t been worn down by now, the Soft Moon ensures that the closer will beat whatever life was life right the hell out of you. The near-tribal beat gathers layers and layers of rhythmic noise before coming to a complete halt as though someone concerned for your well-being had pulled the plug somewhere.
All in all, it’s the perfect soundtrack for a movie I wouldn’t want to be the protagonist in because if the sonic cues are any indication, it’s all going to end very badly. 9/10 (Canadian).