“A bold reimagining of the soundtrack genre”
The Mayo Clinic defines body dysmorphic disorder as a disorder in which “you can’t stop thinking about one or more perceived defects or flaws in your appearance.” This causes the person abnormal amounts of distress, rendering them unable to focus on anything other than the perceived flaw, impacting their personal relationships and their ability to function in social situations.
The concept behind Luis Vasquez’s new album is something like the aural equivalent of this—except on this record, it’s not just one flaw that causes distress. It’s not even two or three. Vazquez envisions the entire damn body as a giant flaw in and of itself.
On bandcamp, he says the album is a “collection of themes to living in the human body,” a constant sense of physical discomfort informs A Body Of Errors, the new album by Vasquez, who’s best known as the founding member and frontman of post-punk group The Soft Moon. The very title frames the body as an abomination, or one giant defect—a confused assemblage of meat, bones, mucus and saliva, doomed to toil in its own filth before one day withering away completely with nothing to show for it.
A Body Of Errors never reaches the musical heights of The Soft Moon’s output, but that’s not the point. This album, described as a “bold reimagining of the soundtrack genre,” is geared more toward setting a mood. And it does that well. The most obvious point of reference is the synth-laden horror film soundtracks of the ‘70s and ‘80s—think A Nightmare on Elm Street or Halloween, albeit with Vasquez’s own industrial spin. A Body Of Errors succeeds in paying homage to this tradition while also breathing new life into it.
Reverb-flushed synths, pounding, chase scene-ready percussion and jittery strings are all over this record. Many tracks are gothic and bleak, like the foreboding “Interno” and the dark ambient-inflected “Decomposition (Part 1).” Dancier stylings occasionally crop up too, namely on “Surgery” and “This Guilt,” both of which are built on driving, sodomic beats that thrash and grind like the crowd in a smokey, subterranean club. A lot of the textures on this movie-for-your-ears are in this vein: industrial, cold and mechanical.
But therein lies the problem—cold and mechanical doesn’t evoke the human body. Many of the tracks rarely feel as visceral, carnal or downright ugly as their unifying concept suggests. It functions just fine as a “soundtrack,” but as an exploration of the human body and of the grotesque nature of physical being, this album often falls short.
“Poison Mouth,” for instance, starts out promising enough with a cavernous, thundering percussive stomp, squelching, distorted synths and a caustic grind. For a minute, it actually sounds like a churning stomach. But this momentum is brought to a halt when the track abruptly turns into something more spectral and symphonic. Similarly, “Under My Teeth” drives forward with the intensity of blood coursing through veins, but its machine-like textures imply viscerality, rather than inhabiting it. Moments like these give off the impression that Vasquez isn’t taking the “human body” concept to its full potential.
Other tracks are more atmospheric, like “The Wasp” and “No Longer Human.” These two dark ambient cuts are eerie and dramatic. “No Longer Human” sounds straight out of Twin Peaks. From a technical standpoint they serve the soundtrack function well by effectively setting a mood and eliciting a visual response. But that response has little to do with the human body, because the sounds at hand are far too subtle, too delicate. Granted, the other tracks never get this ethereal, so these are extreme cases that don’t quite represent the album as a whole.
Things really get interesting when a deeper, more overt viscerality bleeds through. “Arms & Legs,” the penultimate track, features a distorted-to-hell guitar pounding out a repetitive, monolithic riff which melds with the underlying synths to create a thick, all-consuming wall of sludge. “Used To Be” also showcases a fuzzed-out guitar riff, allowing for warmer, more distinctly “human” textures. And “In A Cage” pulsates and throbs with obscene amounts of distortion, sounding like the cries of an insatiable gelatinous mass in a body horror film.
These tracks sound positively repulsive, and call to mind the inner churnings of the body: feces, urine, blood, farts and burps. The surrounding tracks are every bit as dark and ominous, but they never quite take it to these sonic extremes. And if you’re going to make an album about the grotesque body, why not go all out on the grotesque factor?
A Body Of Errors is an enjoyable, technically proficient album, but it doesn’t totally achieve its goals. A worthy entry into the soundtrack genre? Definitely. It’s moody, cinematic, and perfectly captures the aesthetic of retro horror movie scores. But a “collection of themes to living in the human body”? In this regard, it could stand to go further. With some exceptions, the sounds within are either too symphonic, too mechanical or just not harsh enough for this purpose. This album is full of promise, displaying occasional flashes of over-the-top viscerality, but it ultimately left me with the sense that Vasquez was holding back a bit.
It comes across that Vasquez feels as much discomfort in his own skin as he says he does. How could he not? The human body is a disgusting, vile thing, and, as an artist, he probably feels this more acutely than most. But on A Body Of Errors he mostly suggests this reality, when he ought to be shoving it right down our throats.