Post-punk is one of those amazingly vague, unevocative genre names. It can encompass so many things, covering so many different bands with so many different sounds. In this case, The Soft Moon (aka San Fransisco’s Luis Vasquez) gets that tag for icy, dark, tense, electro-pop. There’s an underpinning of dissatisfaction and even some anger in the music, but I wouldn’t exactly call it punk. The base of the music is expansive, psych-influenced synth rhythms, rather than simple, aggressive guitar chords. But, hey, whatever. We all know it isn’t about whatever genre classification you want to drop onto things to gain attention (though it can often help). And, in this case, the self-titled disc here deserves the help. So, let’s give it a quick boost by dropping some names it’s more similar to, namely Killing Joke and The Cure.
Vasquez looks to grab an audience from the word “go,” with opening track “Breath the Fire” subsisting on the driving rhythm and warbling, slightly jarring synth tone methodically charging out of the speakers. The subdued, whispering vocals loom in the background, barely discernible. They’re moody, eerie, haunting the back of your head rather than crushing over you. There’s nothing overtly doom-bound or ghoulish; instead it’s a great set-piece of mood and designed atmosphere. There are infectious polyrhythms in “Circles”, a dark, spooky head-bobber that’d be perfect for a Halloween dance party. The nearly atonal pops and feedback howls combine into a haunted house trance; the feedback washes just get more and more aggressive as time passes, the rhythm insistent, pushing things further and further.
The squared-off synths of “Out of Time” fall behind a sort-of cheesy theremin: the haunted house bit at one of the rare moments where it goes too far. The rhythm (once again) is driving, featuring the sort-of dark, chugging, low-key guitars Robert Smith would sing against. Vasquez, instead, looms in the background, grinning and pushing out syllables as if they pain him, burying them slowly under mounds of reverb and delay. Replace the theremin with a squealing guitar or even a saxophone and this track would be a standout, but the theremin just seems too obvious. “When It’s Over” is Vasquez’s first turn at a slow-burner, the guitar hook much simpler than the rest, repeating its slightly down-turned, dog-eared edges, leaving the slow-reverbed moans and croons to do their thing. The build of square-wave synths is glacial, too, the mass coming together in a giant, icy wall.
The maracas and guitar on “Dead Love” keep The Cure in mind, while “Parallells” is another atmospheric spook-out. The well-titled “Sewer Sickness” lurches on out-of-control synth, while “Into Depth” layers heavily effected vocals (both low and high) throughout. The horror movie credits-evoking “Tiny Spiders” closes things out nicely, keeping the atmosphere alive and focused. In the end, the disc has its own time and place. You probably won’t want to be dropping this one in the Discman as you walk through a park with your new puppy. This is more a downcast, angry walk through the rain kind of thing. But it’s got that market by the throat, as it were, doing so without the cliched or obnoxious tools (if you ignore that theremin), doing so originally and powerfully, doing so quite well.