Michel Rowland has been the mainstay behind gothic rock band Disjecta Membra for just over twenty years. In that time he has also served intermittently as a background contributor to projects including Winterland, Rose Petals & Confetti, and Wellington post-industrial neofolk project, Distorture. As a promoter of local ‘dark’ underground music, Michel ran the Mediatrix label (former home to The Mercy Cage, Jordan Reyne, Winterland, Shemsu Hor et al) in partnership with Distorture’s Jason Just from 1999-2005, and coordinated Wellington’s annual Darkness Gathering festival during the same period.
A writer and historian by trade, Michel now holds the coveted job-title of Typewriter Monkey at European music and media website and print zine Gothic Rock Magazine, and blogs under Saturday Night, Stay At Home. As a promoter, he continues to work closely with a number of independent bands around New Zealand, Australia and further afield, and is one third of Wellington Cure covers band, Splintered In Her Head. He lives with Rosebud, Angel and Eden, who are people; not pets. Here are five albums he’s loving right now…
1 – Masses, Horde Mentality EP: For those of us who became fans of the genre during the eighties, many might now regard themselves as too grown-up, embarrassed, or just plain bored to associate themselves with the cartoonish farce that ultimately came to represent ‘Goth’ over the past 20 years or so. Some, however, might also welcome the opportunity to reconsider what dark punk/post-punk influenced music and counter-culture can (and elsewhere has) become.
Once regarded by many as the sole surviving heir to the legacy of punk and post-punk, over the course of the 1990s, the so-called gothic music genre seemed to become increasingly dominated either by overblown schlock-rock clichés, or by an inane, homogenous dance-club soundtrack masquerading as ‘industrial’ music. For goth purists, all that survived the 1990s were ‘Sisters of the Nephilim’ sound-alikes, regurgitating a gothic-rock-by-numbers formula that had already been done-to-death by the late ‘80s. Leaving the salad days of innovation and diversity far behind, despite countless attempts to reinvent itself, Goth and its many-horrid-headed hybrid permutations ultimately disappeared up its own arse, becoming a sort of self-parodying Flat Earth Society, persisting in the face of overwhelming (and frequently warranted) ridicule.
In no small part a response to the hostile takeover of cookie-cutter consumerism and narcissistic socialites, however, over the course of the last decade, a steady sea change has been taking place within the dark alternative music scene. It began (and by its very nature, persists) at an underground level, but has since taken the international goth and ‘deathrock’ subculture full-circle to rediscover the DIY, post-punk ethos at the movement’s roots. (For the uninitiated, the term ‘deathrock’ originally referred to American ‘dark punk’ bands like Christian Death or 45 Grave, emerging during the late ‘70s and early ‘80s and running more-or-less parallel to the first wave of goth bands in the UK and Europe. More recently, ‘deathrock’ has become a sort of universal shorthand for all things at the darker end of the punk and post-punk spectrum.) As deathrock writer, historian and promoter Oliver Sheppard writes, “That period of rediscovery last decade, of punk reclaiming deathrock and certain styles of postpunk, has injected a new energy, interest, and vitality into the genre.”
Isolated as much by an insular cultural mindset as by our own geography, the New Zealand scene has been comparatively slow on the uptake. By contrast, Australia now teems with a diversity of that much-needed new blood, giving rise to bands like Masses, Bat Nouveau, Occults, Rule of Thirds, Buzz Kull, Lakes, Soviet X-Ray Record Club, Infinite Void and Nervous Trend. The bands in that very short list alone range in style from atmospheric minimal synth, to apocalyptic neo-folk, to more conventional guitar-driven formats, but all share strands of a common lineage within the new wave of modern goth, dark punk, post-punk and deathrock. Having felt very much out of step with the dominant ‘goth-industrial’ trend at home for some years, I can’t deny that the prospect of trans-Tasman cross-pollination has lately brought me some revived sense of enthusiasm for playing music again.
Formed not quite two years ago, Melbourne’s Masses have emerged from this burgeoning wave of young Australian bands, many of whom (most notably, Nervous Trend, Rule of Thirds and Infinite Void) have their boots firmly planted in the music, lifestyle and politics of anarcho-punk culture, while also drawing from dark post-punk and early goth influences. Masses cite underground ‘80s anarcho-punk bands from the UK like Rudimentary Peni, The Mob, Vex and Flux of Pink Indians as points of reference, alongside more recognisable post-punk and proto-goth names like Killing Joke or X-Mal Deutschland. Masses’ members variously describe the result as “anarcho-post-punk”, and “punk for goths” or “goth for punks”. CVLT Nation’s Daniel Vandenberg called the Horde Mentality EP “100% On Point Post-Punk”, while Mr. Sheppard lists Masses among those who “definitely have deathrock elements to their sound – but “dark punk” might fit them better”. Other reviewers have made comparisons to Lost Tribe, The Bellicose Minds and (inevitably) Joy Division, but unanimously hasten to add that the band have a distinct sound all their own – one that tends to draw out adjectives like ‘nervous’, ‘anxious’ or ‘uneasy’.
‘Intolerance’ opens the Horde Mentality EP with thunderous neo-tribal tom-toms, trailed closely by jarring rhythm guitars that skitter with the stark, urgent jangle of a young Robert Smith. My favourite track is ‘Broken’; again with the characteristically jittery guitars over a glowering goth bass, atmospheric synth and twitching, skeletal drums. ‘Blind’ is comparatively stripped back and austere, with frontman James Blake’s insistent, resonant voice contrasted by the airy vocals of (now former) keyboardist Jen Mace from Nervous Trend (more recently replaced by expat Wellington punk Nellie Pearson). The final track, ‘Seasons’, finds the middle ground between these contrasting elements; part atmospheric gloom and goth guitar, part turbulent clamour and punk rock vivacity.
Produced by Phill Calvert of The Birthday Party, and released on Aussie DIY distro Blow Blood Records, this 4-song 7” EP arguably shouldn’t be in a list of my five favourite albums. Regardless, in less than two years’ existence the band’s recorded output has already begun to stack up. An earlier self-titled demo tape and its subsequent re-issue both sold out quickly, while their most recent offering in July was a storming punk rendition of Joy Division’s ‘She’s Lost Control’ for the CVLT Nation Sessions’ tribute to Unknown Pleasures, revealing Masses at their most raucous and abrasive.
Disjecta Membra were privileged to play support at Masses’ Wellington show in October, along with local punks Fantails and Bonecruncher. A striking feature of Masses on-stage, and of all the bands who played that night, in fact, was the level of gender equality evident; something that should pass without comment, and which was suitably almost unremarkable in its matter-of-fact-ness. Four bands played, and not a single male appeared on bass guitar.
After several line-up changes, only Masses’ frontman James Blake and bassist Tessa Tribe persist as mainstays of the original live band. Tessa’s presence has become utterly definitive; in unison, she and James take the lead role in managing, directing and representing Masses. More importantly, Tessa Tribe is the driving rhythmic and melodic component underpinning so much of the band’s music, both onstage and on record. In that sense, Tribe is to Masses what Peter Hook was to Joy Division; Simon Gallup to The Cure. While membership around the Blake/Tribe nucleus seems to have often fluctuated, drummer Tom Rowley has now been with the group since November 2013 and looks to have become another crucial axis point; all the more evident on witnessing his drumming live, like the engine at the heart of a roaring machine.
Masses’ usual guitarist, Sam Hall, was absent for the NZ tour, being more than capably stood in for by Amy Rowswell, whose confidence and precision had me convinced that she must have already been with the band some time. Masses’ newest fulltime member, Nellie Pearson, occasionally seemed a little less certain, but it was to prove an entirely groundless concern. Pearson’s breathy, dulcet vocals bring the necessary contrast and balance to Blake’s fervent bluster, while her atmospheric keyboards provide a similar counterpoint to the more angular, serrated edges of the band’s sound.
Horde Mentality was also re-issued on cassette in October 2014 via Wellington DIY label Zero Style, coinciding with the band’s whirlwind New Zealand tour. The tape includes a live version of the unreleased track ‘Eternal’ as an exclusive bonus, and limited copies are still available from Black Coffee in Newtown, or by contacting Johnny at Zero Style directly. Early 2015 has already seen the band playing support on Australian tours from dark post-punk band The Estranged, from Portland, Oregon, and Canadian punks Zex, both of whom also came out to NZ, thanks to thriving, proactive DIY networks in the current punk/post-punk underground community. New Masses recordings are also imminent, via a split vinyl release with another excellent dark anarcho-post-punk band, Crimson Scarlet from San Francisco, on Seattle punk label Rust and Machine Records.
2 – Black City Lights, Another Life: It’s unfair, but inevitable that Julia Catherine Parr’s vocal similarity to my childhood heroine, Annie Lennox, coupled with producer Calum Robb’s eerie electronica, makes it nigh-impossible to avoid comparing the sound of 2013’s full-length début, Another Life from Black City Lights, to that of the Eurythmics’ first album, In the Garden; a weirdly detached (but by no means loveless) marriage between ghostly beauty and mechanised minimalism. But Another Life also has much in common with more contemporary influences; that icy, haunting variety of modern indie-electronica that fuses ‘80s synth, ethereal and darkwave roots with heavily processed, shimmering production values.
Probably the closest thing you’ll find to ‘commercial pop music’ in this list of five records, Black City Lights’ style inhabits an area of music that I’m not overly qualified to comment on with any degree of insight or authority. But it appeals on a similar level to Auckland’s Mellow Grave, Melbourne’s White Hex, or U.S. darkwave/synthpop outfit Cold Cave, if that helps you out at all. It’s the sort of musical lineage that could see Black City Lights comfortably placed on the current rosters of cult labels like Fiction or 4AD, so it’s no surprise that they’ve been opening for the likes of The Naked and Famous or Grimes. Disappointingly, a scheduled tour of Australia and New Zealand supporting Cold Cave in September was cancelled at the eleventh hour – an event I had billed in my head as a double act, and an infinitely more enthralling prospect than turgid stadium rockers like NIN co-headlining with anyone.
It was to be the last of many missed opportunities for me to catch the band live. In mid February, Black City Lights (by now a trio) announced their imminent demise, and at the time of writing have just played their final show. The announcement was coupled with a cover of The Stone Roses’ ‘I Wanna Be Adored’, and one final swansong, with which to “go out on a bang”, is promised via Red Bull Sound Select in April.
If there was an Achilles’ heel to Another Life, it would be that individual songs can sometimes get lost in the amorphous atmosphere (if getting lost in an atmosphere even can be seen as a drawback), making it a fairly safe bet that if you’re not as taken as I was with the first couple of tracks you hear from these guys, then you’re not likely to enjoy too many of them at all. But if your attention span has survived the age of streaming music relatively intact, sufficient to still appreciate entire albums of sustained mood, and if Parr’s otherworldly sirensong is enough to lure you into Robb’s dark synthpop, then repeated listening will soon allow the spectral shapes of individual tracks to step out from the fog.
From the outset, the obvious pick of the bunch for me has been the achingly wistful ‘Children’. Other standouts include the aptly named lead single, ‘Offering’; the almost soulful pop of ‘Give It Up’; the paradoxically dark and beatific ‘Faceless Child’; or the fraught anguish of ‘Tried So Hard’. My least favourite, despite a sublime Toni Halliday-ish vocal, is ‘Take Me Home’; and only then for flaunting a regrettably overt stylistic nod to the faddish ‘witch house’ camp, which just seemed like an unnecessary detour from the duo’s own idiosyncratic path. That said, it’s difficult to imagine a project like this arising from a musical landscape wherein witch house wasn’t already a prominent landmark, and as blemishes on the Black City skyline go, it pales in significance to the album’s many virtues.
3 – Ascetic:, Self Initiation: Formerly known in their hometown of Melbourne as The Process, and now based in Berlin, Ascetic: bring together the ethereal influence of early genre-defining 4AD signings like Dead Can Dance (the self-titled début, especially) or The Wolfgang Press, but somehow manage to tether these ephemera to the lurching rhythmic swagger of American ‘no wave’ demolitionists like Swans or Big Black. The band also namedrop contemporaries including American neo-post-punk outfit The Soft Moon, or London post-industrial band Factory Floor, and even cite Portishead’s album Third as an influence.
Sonically efficient, the Australian trio’s sound revolves around a nucleus of spacious, textural guitar; solemn but melodious and propulsive bass; and a seamless amalgam of both organic and mechanical rhythms, which are sometimes skittish and frequently off-kilter, but always unrelentingly precise. The vocals contrast between close, breathy, melodic despondency (not unlike disquieting moments from Bailterspace) at one end of the scale, and booming, cavernous, inconsolable ranting at the other. Electronic and synthesised elements occasionally augment an already pervasive sense of the atmospheric, but without ever overpowering the extant sound. The overall effect is sometimes comparable to the bleak, urban UK post-punk of Wire, Joy Division or Red Lorry Yellow Lorry, and is at the same time visually evocative of scenes from Wim Wenders’ cinematic masterwork, Wings of Desire.
Importantly, unlike all-too-many of their post-punk-inspired peers, Ascetic: have more than just a sound and style; Self Initiation is also an album brimming with substance. Where their musical architecture is modern, moody and minimal – stark, sleek and stylish – frontman/bassist August Skipper’s deep, reverberating vocals explore lyrical themes ranging from the esoterica of “fringe philosophy and post-new-age consciousness”, to almost impenetrably dense introspection. The results lend a certain gravitas to the album, both conceptually and aurally, serving as a necessary counterpoint to the superficial trappings of the band’s undeniably cool aesthetic. The foreboding gloom of Skipper’s bass provides another needed anchorage against Saxon Jörgensen’s iridescent guitars floating off into the post-post-modern faux-European æther. Meanwhile, online video postcards from Berlin’s underground club circuit reveal the band’s propensity for tearing down these elegant structures live; collapsing beautifully amidst a sonorous blitzkrieg of caterwauling guitars, rumbling bass and flattening percussion.
The chiming clang and clatter of the single, ‘I Burn’, spurred on by one of Skipper’s signature diatribes, was always destined to become the crowd favourite, but there are many other highlights to be found within this record. They include ‘We Are Not All Dead’ despite (or perhaps because of) its unconcealed melodic likeness to Joy Division; the melancholy air of ‘Religion’, which contrasts with its deceptively spirited tempo, almost skirting around the edges of new-wave pop; and the ritualistic, driving procession of my personal favourite, ‘Uroboros (Up from Eden)’, overlaid with more distraught existentialist raging against God knows what. ‘Before the Storm’ is a dizzying expedition to the outer reaches of the sonic stratosphere, flawed only by a vocal that didn’t quite scale the heights to match, but as with the foregoing Black City Lights album, the stronger points of Self Initiation are so, so very good that its infrequent troughs simply cannot alter or detract from its stature amid this fistful.
4 – Peter Murphy, Ninth: I’ve been a lot more stirred up recently about emerging new bands than I have been for a long time. Even so, there’s usually still a fair bit of music on high rotate at our house from bands and artists whom we discovered in the eighties; over the last twelve months or so that’s usually meant a lot of The Cure, Peter Murphy, Nick Cave and Cocteau Twins. Ninth isn’t Murphy’s most recent release, but over the last couple of years, more than any other from the established perennials, this album has really stuck with me. I think it is the former Bauhaus frontman’s best work to date.
I was too young to be a follower of Bauhaus during their heyday, only discovering the band in 1988, some five years since their initial split. While I very quickly became a fan of their back-catalogue, it was tracking the subsequent output of their singer that was to command my attention over the next couple of years. At the time, Murphy’s first solo outing, Should the World Fail to Fall Apart from 1986, was my favourite of his post-Bauhaus efforts; it had come between 1984’s The Waking Hour LP from Dali’s Car (a collaboration with the late Mick Karn), and a second solo album, Love Hysteria in 1987. But then came the release of his third solo album, Deep, in 1989 (not widely available in New Zealand until the following year), confidently sweeping aside so much of what had gone before. With a stunning array of songs that included ‘Cuts You Up’, ‘A Strange Kind of Love’, ‘Deep Ocean, Vast Sea’, ‘The Line Between the Devil’s Teeth’, ‘Crystal Wrists’ and ‘Marlene Dietrich’s Favourite Poem’, it was for many years to follow the definitive height of his solo career.
Murphy’s next album, Holy Smoke (1992), seemed to fall short of recapturing whatever spark had given impetus to Deep, and beyond that point, admittedly, I gradually lost track. A Bauhaus reunion tour and a smattering of new recordings in 1998 revived some glimmer of hope, but New Zealand was never a likely port of call for the Resurrection Tour, and whispered promises of a new album vanished into thin air. By the time Bauhaus reformed again to play Coachella in 2005, I struggled to feign more than a passing interest, let alone conceive of the notion that they might actually record a new album.
2008’s Go Away White was more than just a pleasant surprise, then, and not least because it was actually very good. True to the spirit of earlier Bauhaus albums without resorting to caricatures of former glories, Go Away White, despite the inclusion of now decade-old songs from their previous get-together, was still a largely spontaneous, experimental and inventive album. But Murphy’s next solo album, Ninth, was better.
Accurately described by Murphy as “a continuation of the Go Away White trajectory”, Ninth successfully builds on the intuitive, back-to-basics approach of its spiritual predecessor. Opening with ‘Velocity Bird’, the tone for Ninth is established with nods to the Stooges and VU school of rock & roll, unabashedly proclaiming the teachings of John Cale; an imprint equally indelible on Bauhaus tracks ‘Too Much 21st Century’ and especially ‘Adrenalin’, which had set a similar pace for Go Away White.
Where Go Away White stands apart from Ninth, however, is that only the composite elements of a unified Bauhaus could have produced songs like ‘Black Stone Heart’ or ‘Mirror Remains’, occupying a weird, dark space between post-punk, modern rock and unsettling avant-pop. Murphy’s subsequent offering is also devoid of the haunted, ambient soundscapes of ‘Zikir’ or ‘The Dog’s A Vapour’; a seeping haze of anti-matter gathering ‘round the album’s summit, into which all traces of Bauhaus would fade away forever.
Conversely, Ninth soars melodically with a dark pop romanticism not heard from Bauhaus since the band peaked in and around 1982, but which has in turn become a defining characteristic of Murphy’s solo output. The transcendent lead single, ‘I Spit Roses’, invokes the syncopated rhythms, exotic guitar shimmy and towering hooks of Bauhaus singles like ‘The Passion of Lovers’ or ‘Spirit’, while the lavish production and polished performance brings those elements up to speed with the infinitely more accomplished vocalist. The song’s title echoes Murphy’s response to tensions with his former bandmates reaching a head while at work on Go Away White, as described by Bauhaus bassist David J: “So he comes in, and he does this shocking and brilliant thing. Pure Zen. He comes in, and he just spits rose petals in our faces. It just cut through everything. We couldn’t argue with that. So we just went in and continued recording.”
Words like “propulsive” and “soaring” are easily over-applied to uplifting modern rock anthems like ‘Memory Go’, and my favourite, ‘The Prince and Old Lady Shade’. Side-by-side around the album’s midpoint, they seem to have been placed like a bulls-eye over the heart of Ninth, wherein Murphy and his band find their target with smart precision. As with ‘I Spit Roses’, the core strength of both songs lies in Peter’s lofty vocal hooks, urging the listener to fly away with him; an impossible idea made believable by the band’s commanding rock-driven performances. ‘The Prince and Old Lady Shade’ is spurred on even further by its rousing string arrangement, which might read like a cliché, but plays out perfectly.
With an almost Cure-ish sense of melody underpinning Mark Gemini Twhaite’s guitar arrangements, the album’s second single, ‘Seesaw Sway’, covers similar territory, while ‘Peace To Each’ takes a heavier, riff-driven approach, hinting at Soundgarden or The Cult, if only a little shyly. The subdued ‘Never Fall Out’ is perhaps the album’s weakest point; not so much for the dip in momentum as its cheesy arrangement, like a late ‘80s soft-rock ballad, while the compressed and crunchy riffage from ‘Uneven & Brittle’ is a mercifully faint reminder of earlier collaborations with Trent Reznor.
Occupying the musical space between the two singles, ‘Slowdown’ succeeds in convincing you that it’s done what it says on the tin, despite resetting the album to its default tempo. A not-so-buoyant reprise of the themes that characterised the more urgent tracks, it smoothes the way for the gnarled and winding gothic meanderings of ‘Secret Silk Society’ – another highlight. The album closer, ‘Crème de la Crème’ returns to rock balladeering, but more convincingly this time; riding a gradual ascent from a trickle of pretty piano to the crest of a tumultuous strum-along, before gently breaking; a lingering air of the insoluble in its wake.
Peter Murphy’s latest album, Lion, was released in June last year. The dividends of an exhaustive touring regime in recent years are immediately obvious on Lion; long-time drummer Nick Lucero, bassist Emilio China and newest addition Andee Blacksugar on guitar have quickly become the most powerful incarnation of Murphy’s band to date. As a vocalist, Peter Murphy continues to surpass himself; extending his vocals to their outer reaches in order to retrieve a veritable roar befitting the album’s title. In equal measure, Lion is a collaborative effort with renowned producer Youth of Killing Joke fame, whose mark on the album is state-of-the-art. Sonically, Lion is in many ways far more adventurous, challenging, and innovative and therefore arguably more accomplished than Ninth, and the more I listen to it, the more I like it. But for now, it’s the songs that have made Ninth both so immediate and so durable – it’s just full of great songs.
5 – Villain, Villain: My introduction to emergent Christchurch post-punk band Villain was a chance discovery while flicking channels on the tele a few years ago, to land upon a highschool band competing in the Smokefree Rockquest. At the time, the band described themselves as a mix of darkwave and post-punk; I would’ve compared the sound to Joy Division, The Cure, Interpol or She Wants Revenge – somewhere between dark indie and post-punk, but with vocalist Shaun McTague’s ominous, booming voice being one of the most immediately striking and definitive features to set the band apart. As might be expected, Villain have since grown and matured quickly, developing a sound that’s more decidedly their own; still very much in the dark post-punk vein, but perhaps also owing something to their own New Zealand musical heritage, in the tradition of Gordons, Sunken Seas or Die! Die! Die!
Released via Villain’s bandcamp in September last year (pay what you want, if at all), the self-titled album was recorded, mixed and mastered by Matthew Gunn of Ipswich, another strong Christchurch post-punk outfit worth watching. Villain was preceded by its lead single, ‘Post-Human’, with Cameron Hoy’s layers of flickering guitar another standout feature of the track. Accompanied by a well-crafted video – slickly shot in and around the ruins of post-quake central Christchurch – ‘Post Human’ quickly hit the Top 10 on RDU in Christchurch. My favourite track, however, is ‘Left Hand Shake’, grinding up from a brief but menacing bass intro (with a nod to ‘Shadowplay’) to a more frenetic pace, driven by guitars that rattle like branches at the window on a stormy night, and the solid rhythm section of brothers Edward and Richard Kwon. Hoy’s frenzied, howling gale approach to guitar is ramped up another notch with songs like ‘RPM’, or the gradual noise crescendo of the album opener, ‘Castlevania’, while others, like ‘Vinny’s Garden’, return to the glimmering shades characteristic of ‘Post Human’, which doubles as a strong closer.
Simon gave Villain a merciless slagging on release, even returning to rate it one of the worst albums of 2014, which, to my mind seemed largely misguided. Not because I’d have expected him to like it; Simon’s unreserved disdain for the likes of Die! Die! Die! left me wondering why a group like Villain would even submit themselves to his particular brand of critique in the first place. And to be fair, it’s not difficult at all to imagine why Villain’s sound would grate on some people. Right out front, McTague’s voice is something that listeners will either love or hate (Simon called it a “brutal whinge”), and once you know which side of that fence you’re on, there’s precious little McTague’s bandmates could do to change your mind about Villain, either way. Clearly, I’m on the love side of the fence; I love deep, rich voices full of character and resonance, and McTague has those qualities in abundance.
But it’s not for everyone – let’s be clear. Personal taste aside, however, when it comes to objective criticism, I think Simon’s review of Villain took some big, flailing swings in entirely the wrong ballpark; suggesting to readers that this is a band whose sound can be conveniently stowed away in a filing box alongside emo, screamo, nu-gaze and related classifications of shite. I simply don’t hear anything resembling what he described as “nu-metal attempting shoegaze” or “shitty Battle of the Bands metal-lite”, while the inference that the term ‘darkwave’ is merely some hollow abstract that the band has conjured up as a preferred substitute for one or more of those terms, is just ill-informed.
To their credit, far from responding with the petulant angst befitting a band resembling those misconceptions, the lads took it on the chin with a level of grace and good humour belying their youth, cheerfully sporting the review as a battle scar of distinction. Mislabelling all and any forms of dark alternative or post-punk influenced music as ‘Nu Metal’ has since become the standing joke among the band’s following – a growing, loyal and increasingly influential fan-base, as it happens. The band opened for Masses (who loved them) in Christchurch on the latter band’s NZ tour in October; Bat Nouveau are also ardent fans, as are San Francisco goth rockers Soulscape. Meanwhile, tracks from the album have begun popping up in the playlists of specialist goth and darkwave DJs in London, Paris, Germany and California. This will of course mean nothing to some people, but for a band like Villain, it’s precisely the kind of support that counts.
One criticism I would make of the album, however, is that it could do with more dynamic and variation. It’s often too easy for a band of Villain’s ilk to slip into habitually generating one particular style or sound, without deviating from that formula enough to deliver songs that readily stand apart from one another. And that’s the natural place to find them in at this stage in their development – a young band, still in the midst of consolidating and defining their style. But with their début album done and dusted, establishing ‘the Villain sound’ is something they can confidently tick off the list; the logical next step is to then extend outward from that template, and explore the wider range of their own potential as musicians and songwriters. All of which will occur naturally, in its own time.
What matters about Villain for now though, is that it’s these younger bands exploring dark post-punk music from a fresh perspective who are bringing renewed energy and promise to the genre’s future in New Zealand. And among them, Villain are leading the way. I think that’s something worth nurturing, so I was thrilled to fucking bits to help bring them to Wellington for Valentine’s at Valhalla, and I’ll be helping out again when the band tour New Zealand in support of Bat Nouveau this September.