11 Shades of Black
Imagine a child on a grassy hillside, running joyfully in warm sunshine, clutching the ribbon of a bright red balloon. Let that image set for a moment. Now imagine the exact opposite of it. What you are now picturing is Deeper, the third full-length album from The Soft Moon, solo project of Luis Vasquez, an Oakland rock auteur who seems like he would not be much fun at parties.
After the album’s ominous intro, “Black” comes in on a pounding four-on-the-floor beat, sparse and abrasive instrumentation, and a whispered vocal delivery which all combine into something reminiscent of a certain mid-90’s classic that saw Trent Reznor become every parent’s worst nightmare. The album actually manages to get darker than this opening number, continually dragging back and forth across the line between poppy and neurotic. It’s a kind of new-wave punk with a darker, noisy, and sometimes industrial edge. “Wasting” feels more than a little like Bowie’s darker forays into instrumental composition during his Berlin era. Clearly, we are not walking on the sunny side of this particular street.
While they say you should never judge a book by its cover, you can surmise a good deal about Deeper by glancing down its track-list. “Wrong,” “Desertion,” “Without” — it doesn’t take a whole lot of imagination to guess where this is going. Like many solo creators, Vasquez is highly introspective, and his introspection does not lead to rainbows and sunshine. Melodically, Vasquez keeps things simple on Deeper. His measured baselines, siren-like synth sections, generally stripped down sound, and overall gloomy disposition definitely owe at least a nod and a wink to the Joy Divisions and Depeche Modes of the past.
Deeper is a dark album of thick songs without a light and airy side. With barely an upbeat moment, it can start to feel depressive, but it doesn’t drag. Vasquez has a high level of artistic sensibility and a definite musical talent that he puts to work on an album that goes just far enough. The Soft Moon definitely takes a lot from its predecessors in gloomy synth-rock, and some may feel that it verges on (or plunges headlong into) melodrama, but it’s hard to complain when it’s done this well.