Staring at Second Place
It’s been a very good year for musicians plying their trade in the fuzzy world of what might be considered “gothic” music. The stuff is connected to the history of both ’70s/’80s New Wave and ’80s/’90s shoegaze, and the right hands make both analog and digital instruments pop off the background—hasn’t mattered if they’re being played by crypto-vampiric waifs or dapper fashion-mag-lookin’ folks. With the sound at music’s forefront, British quintet S.C.U.M. seem to be in the right place at the right time with their Again Into Eyes release.
Looks, however, can be deceiving. Sure they’re on Mute Records, which has hosted mewling lyrics and atmospheres from Depeche Mode on. Sure they feature Huw Webb on bass, whose brother Rhys is in The Horrors, they of gauzy and fabulous third album Skying. But whether or not S.C.U.M. are just victims of too much of a good thing, Again Into Eyes doesn’t contain enough distinguishing sonic features to have it stand out from the pack.
It doesn’t help when you have two songs early on in your tracklist—”Cast Into Seasons” and single “Amber Hands”—cut from the same mournful cloth. The former is slow and the latter fast, but both share a key, droning effects, deceptively simple drums, pivotal lyrics around “seasons,” and Thomas Cohen’s drawn-out affectations. They play like themes from separate acts of a Violent Femmes or Interpol opera, and that’s probably not where they were aiming.
S.C.U.M.’s bag of tricks includes walls of sound with peek-a-boo melodies (“Summon the Sound”) and contrasting keyboard-driven softness from Samuel Kilcoyne (“Sentinal Bloom,” “Requiem”). “Whitechapel” is an epic closer with an indie-dance heart, Melissa Rigby’s drums propelling the guts of the song. Things like these are well done in and of themselves, but they also hammer home the fact that the line Again Into Eyes draws through musical history is a long one. The point closest and most relevant to it is, unfortunately, Skying. It doesn’t so much matter that The Horrors do this stuff better than S.C.U.M.—just that they did it first this year.