Already veterans of five albums, California-based duo VANDAL MOON opened their account with the self-released ‘Dreamless’ in 2013.
Purveyors of a modern form of electronic goth rock fusing THE SISTERS OF MERCY with DEPECHE MODE, Blake Voss and Jeremy Einsiedler presented their most synth-based long player ‘Black Kiss’ in 2020.
From it, ‘Robot Lover’ reimagined ‘Enjoy The Silence’ covered by THE MISSION while ‘Suicidal City Girl’ took its lead from THE DANSE SOCIETY in its enthralling electronic post-punk disco.
For their new album ‘Queen Of The Night’, VANDAL MOON don’t tamper too much with the template of ‘Black Kiss’, but they add ambition in a concept record about a young woman navigating a world that is falling apart. Written during the worldwide lockdown, Blake Voss attempts to articulate the claustrophobia and insanity of those coming of age limited to communicating with the outside world via social media only, unable to mature in real life situations. All this while facing an uncertain future like being trapped inside a JG Ballard novel.
Each song focusses on the ‘Queen Of The Night’ character, “singing for the youth of our world”. Both featuring additional synthesizers from FM ATTACK’s Shawn Ward, ‘Young. Deadly. Beautiful.’ is an opener that signals business as usual using pitched up voice samples for its main hook in a sister song to ‘Robot Lover’ from ‘Black Kiss’, while the ‘Queen Of The Night’ title track delivers as it suggests in its brooding gothwave.
With crashing drums borrowed from THE SISTERS OF MERCY’s ‘Dominion’, ‘Sweet Disaster’ is an entertaining vampiric set piece with menacing keyboard motifs. But ‘Chemical Love’ moves towards more classic gothic moods straight out of the ‘Disintegration’ songbook with only Blake Voss’ baritone indicating this is not THE CURE. Meanwhile, ‘Sunlight’ heads straight into Motorik goth rock with live bass guitar from Kate Hummel.
Clowns can polarise and are often seen as sinister so ‘Laughing Like A Clown’ provides an eerie anthem to suit. However ‘Easy To Dream’, a duet with Masha Zinevitch from Belarusian band DLINA VOLNY doesn’t quite hit the spot although much better is ‘Too High To Cry’ with Johnny Dynamite which has more of a hook.
‘War’ is a moodier ballad structured around an offbeat with some great keyboard work by Jeremy Einsiedler, while with gated synths and a funkier bassline moving off a straight four structure, ‘Kiss Me Goodbye’ provides the first real musical development on the album; but it fades after just over two minutes thus sounding incomplete. That’s a shame because it has greater potential as the highlight of the album.
Back to a more traditional approach and not a cover of the Prince song, ‘Diamonds & Pearls’ featuring Vangie Lee adds sax and tinkled ivories to good effect before the album closes with ‘The Way You Cry’, a mighty alternative rock anthem that wouldn’t have gone amiss on an earlier album by THE PSYCHEDELIC FURS with a thematic string machine helping to rouse the chorus along as the guitars stridently power up.
VANDAL MOON have not gone rockabilly or anything and ‘Queen Of The Night’ will keep fans satisfied with its stronger storyline variation on the ‘Black Kiss’ theme. Despite the poetic angst, there is hope and there are any number of tracks here that can be playlisted for a good darkwave disco party. So rise, reverberate and keep the body electric…
‘Queen Of The Night’ is released by Starfield Music on 19th August 2022, available as a crimson vinyl LP, cassette or download from https://vandalmoon.bandcamp.com/
As the world steadily emerged from a painful pandemic that put many lives on hold, nostalgia appeared to be the commodity most in demand as the music industry took steps to recover.
No matter which era, anything musically from the past was more desirable that anything that reminded the public of the past 20 or so months. The first escape destination in the summer for many restricted to staying on their own shores were the established retro festivals.
Meanwhile television provided an array of documentaries ranging from chart rundowns of past decades and informative classic song analysis on Channel 5 to Dylan Jones’ look at ‘Music’s Greatest Decade’ on BBC2 and Sky Arts’ ‘Blitzed’ with all the usual suspects such as Boy George, Philip Sallon, Marilyn, Gary Kemp and Rusty Egan.
SPARKS had their own comprehensive if slightly overlong film ‘The SPARKS Brothers’ directed by Edgar Wright, but the Maels’ musical ‘Annette’ starring Adam Driver was a step too far. Meanwhile the acclaimed ‘Sisters With Transistors’ presented the largely untold story of electronic music’s female pioneers.
Meanwhile for 2022, Midge Ure announced an extensive ‘Voices & Visions’ tour to present material from the 1981-82 phase of ULTRAVOX.
Also next year and all being well, GOLDFRAPP will finally get their belated 20th Anniversary tour for their marvellous debut ‘Felt Mountain’ underway while there are rescheduled ‘Greatest Hits’ live presentations for PET SHOP BOYS and SIMPLE MINDS.
Always money for old rope, but also giving audiences who missed them at their pioneering height an opportunity to catch up, ‘best of’ collections were issued by YELLO and TELEX while JAPAN had their 1979 breakthrough album ‘Quiet Life’ given the lavish boxed set treatment. Meanwhile, while many labels were still doing their best to kill off CD, there was the puzzling wide scale return of the compact cassette, a poor quality carrier even at the zenith of its popularity.
“Reissue! Repackage! Repackage! Re-evaluate the songs! Double-pack with a photograph, extra track and a tacky badge!” a disgraced Northern English philosopher once bemoaned.
The boosted market for deluxe boxed sets and the repackaging of classic albums in coloured vinyl meant that the major corporations such as Universal, Sony and Warners hogged the pressing plants, leaving independent artists with lead times of nearly a year for delivery if they were lucky.
But there was new music in 2021. Having achieved the milestone of four decades as a recording act, DURAN DURAN worked with Giorgio Moroder on the appropriately titled ‘Future Past’ while not far behind, BLANCMANGE took a ‘Commercial Break’ and FIAT LUX explored ‘Twisted Culture’. David Cicero made his belated return to music with a mature second album that was about ‘Today’ as Steven Jones & Logan Sky focussed on the monochromatic mood of ‘European Lovers’. Continuing the European theme but towards the former Eastern Bloc, Mark Reeder gave a reminder that he was once declared ‘Subversiv-Dekadent’ and fellow Mancunians UNE became inspired by the ‘Spomenik’ monoliths commissioned by Marshal Tito in the former Yugoslavia.
For those who preferred to immerse themselves in the darker present, Gary Numan presented ‘Intruder’, a poignant concept album produced by Ade Fenton about Mother Earth creating a virus to teach mankind a lesson! Meanwhile ITALOCONNECTION, the project of Italo veterans Fred Ventura and Paolo Gozzetti teamed up with French superstar Etienne Daho to tell the story of ‘Virus X’! The video of the year came from UNIFY SEPARATE whose motivation message to ‘Embrace The Fear’ despite the uncertainty reflected the thoughts of many.
Despite the general appetite for nostalgia, there was some excellent new music released from less established artists with the album of the year coming from Jorja Chalmers and her ‘Midnight Train’ released on Italians Do It Better. The critical acclaim for the UK based Aussie’s second long playing solo offering made up for the disbandment of the label’s biggest act CHROMATICS, as it went into its most prolific release schedule in its history with albums by GLÜME, JOON, DLINA VOLNY and LOVE OBJECT as well as its own self-titled compilation of in-house Madonna covers.
Attracting a lot of attention in 2021 were NATION OF LANGUAGE, who with their catchy blend of angst, melody and motorik beats welcomed synths as family in their evolving sound while also providing the song of the year in ‘This Fractured Mind’, reflecting the anxieties of these strange times. At the other end of the spectrum, DIAMOND FIELD went full pop with an optimistic multi-vocalist collection that captured the spirit of early MTV while BUNNY X looked back on their high school days with ‘Young & In Love’.
Featuring second generation members of NEW ORDER and SECTION 25, SEA FEVER released their eclectic debut ‘Folding Lines’ as fellow Mancunian LONELADY added sequencers and drum machines to her post-punk funk template. But Glasgow’s CHVRCHES disappointed with their fourth long player ‘Screen Violence’ by opting to sound like every other tired hipster band infesting the land.
The most promising artist to breakthrough in 2021 was Hattie Cooke whose application of traditional songwriting nous to self-production and arrangement techniques using comparatively basic tools such as GarageBand found a wider audience via her third album ‘Bliss Land’. In all, it was a strong year for female synth-friendly artists with impressive albums from Karin My, Laura Dre, Alina Valentina, Robin Hatch and Catherine Moan while comparative veterans like Fifi Rong, Alice Hubble, Brigitte Handley and Alison Lewis as ZANIAS maintained their cult popularity.
With ‘The Never Ending’ being billed as the final FM ATTACK album and PERTURBATOR incorrectly paraphrased by Metal Hammer in a controversial “synthwave is dead” declaration, the community got itself in a pickle by simultaneously attacking THE WEEKND for “stealing from synthwave”, yet wanting to ride on the coat tails of Abel Tesfaye, misguidedly sensing an opportunity to snare new fans for their own music projects.
With THE WEEKND’s most recent single ‘Take My Breath’, there was the outcry over the use of a four note arpeggio allegedly sampled from MAKEUP & VANITY SET’s ‘The Last City’. But as one online observer put it, “Wow, an arpeggiated minor chord. Hate to break it to you but you might want to check out what Giorgio Moroder was doing 50 years ago. We’re ALL just rippin’ him off if that’s how you think creativity works”. Another added “If a four note minor key arpeggiated chord can go to court on the basis of copyright law, we are in for a hell of a few years my synthy friends”. It outlined once again that there are some who are still under the impression that music using synths was invented by Ryan Gosling in 2011 for ‘Drive’ soundtrack ??
There were also belated complaints that 2019’s A-HA inspired ‘Blinding Lights’ had a simple melody and needed five writers to realise it… but then, so did UTRAVOX’s ‘Slow Motion’ and DURAN DURAN’s ‘Rio’! Collaboration, whether in bands, with producers or even outsiders has always been a key aspect of the compositional process. If it is THAT simple, do it yourself! As Andy McCluskey of OMD said on ‘Synth Britannia’ in 2009 about the pioneering era when Ryan Gosling was still in nappies: “The number of people who thought that the equipment wrote the song for you: ‘well anybody can do it with the equipment you’ve got!’ “F*** OFF!!”
Over the last two years, THE WEEKND has become the biggest mainstream pop act on the planet, thanks to spectacles such as the impressive gothic theatre of the Super Bowl LV half time showcase while in a special performance on the BRITS, there was a charming presentation of the ERASURE-ish ‘Save Your Tears’ where he played air synth in a moment relatable to many. But everything is ultimately down to catchy songs, regardless of synth usage.
So ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK would like to present a hypothetical case to consider… if someone uses the arpeggio function with a sparkling patch from a Juno 6 synth in a recording, does Cyndi Lauper sue for infringing the copyright of ‘All Through The Night’ or the original songwriter Jules Shear or even the Roland Corporation themselves as they created it? More than one producer has suggested that THE WEEKND’s soundbite came from a hardware preset or more than likely, a software sample pack, of which there are now many.
However, sample culture had hit another new low when Tracklib marketed a package as “A real game-changer for sample based music. Now everyone can afford to clear samples” with rapper and producer Erick Sermon declaring “Yo, this is incredible. They’re trying to put creativity back into music again. By having samples you can actually pay for and afford”.
Err creativity? How about writing your own songs and playing or even programming YOUR OWN instrumentation??!? One sampling enthusiast even declared “I might go as far as to say you don’t really like dance music if you’ve got a problem with adding a beat to a huge (even instantly recognizable) sample”… well guess what? ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK LOATHES IT!!! ?
In 2021, music promotion became a bit strange with publicists at all levels keen more than ever to have their clients’ press releases just cut ‘n’ pasted onto online platforms, but very reluctant to allow albums to be reviewed in advance in the event of a potential negative prognosis.
While cut ‘n’ paste journalism has been a disease that has always afflicted online media, in a sad sign of the times, one long established international website moved to a “pay to get your press release featured” business model.
The emergence of reaction vloggers was another bizarre development while the “Mention your favourite artist and see if they respond to you” posts on social media only added more wood to the dumbing down bonfire already existing within audience engagement.
It was as if the wider public was no longer interested in more in-depth analysis while many artists turned their publicity into a reliance on others doing “big ups” via Twitter and Facebook. But then, if artists are being successfully crowdfunded with subscriptions via Patreon, Kickstarter, Bandcamp and the like, do they need a media intermediary any longer as they are dealing direct with their fanbases?
However, it wasn’t all bad in the media with ‘Electronically Yours With Martyn Ware’ providing insightful artist interviews and the largely entertaining ‘Beyond Synth’ podcast celebrating its 300th show. Due to their own music commitments, Steven Wilson and Tim Bowness were less prolific with their discussion show ‘The Album Years’ but it was still refreshing for commentators to be able to say that a record was sh*t when it actually was, rather than conform to the modern day adage that all music is good but not always to the listener’s taste! And while various programmes came and went, other such as ‘Operating//Generating’, ‘KZL Live’ and ‘Absynth’ came to prominence.
Post-pandemic, interesting if uncertain times are ahead within the music industry. But as live performance returns, while the mainstream is likely to hit the crowd walking, will there be enough cost effective venues to host independent artists? Things have been tough but for some, but things might be about to get even tougher.
However, music was what got many through the last 18 months and as times are still uncertain, music in its live variant will help to get everyone through the next year and a half and beyond.
Shawn Ward says ‘The Never Ending’ is his last FM ATTACK album, but it’s a good one to end the story. The Canadian’s 2009 debut album ‘Dreamatic’ got a profile boost in 2011 when Ryan Gosling declared himself a fan of the record during interviews promoting the now-influential cult movie ‘Drive’.
2013’s ‘Déjà Vu’ moved into more song-based territory, while the third FM ATTACK album ‘Stellar’ in 2017 gave a showcase to Ward’s love of new-wave and post-punk. 2019’s ‘New World’ featured MECHA MAIKO and VANDAL MOON on vocals alongside the more understated tones of Ward to forward the template further.
Of his production style, Shawn Ward said to ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK: “I’m a vintage synth nerd, there is something very unique about programming your own sounds, the ones I use often are the Roland Jupiter 8, Jupiter 4 and the Emu Emax…”
‘The Never Ending’ sparkles with dream pop flourishes to add to the synthy experience while still being danceable, as epitomised by the sprightly opener ‘Days Like These’ which is swooped in aural optimism. Moderating to a more cruising pace, ‘Lonely Nights’ sees the first of Shawn Ward’s lead vocals, sweetened by Moroder-style vocoder phrasing. Meanwhile, following on with another vocalled track, ‘Footprints’ pulses and rings within a delightful percolating backdrop.
Taking centre-stage on the collection, ‘Hypnotize’ is a throbbing vocoder-laced highlight where the uptempo triplet groove is indeed hypnotizing. ‘So Blue’ features a sweet vocal refrain from his daughter Stella and utilises grainy synthetic strings and melodic six-string to head into what THE CURE might have sounded like had they been more electro.
‘Cinematic’ is possibly the most synthwave track on the album with its archetypical sombre bassline and full-on synthetic toms but the ringing chimes help it enter a different headspace, while the marvellously energetic ‘Starlight’ offers euphoric disco potential reminiscent of PET SHOP BOYS that more than reaches the hotspot.
Closing the album with the beautifully transient ‘Nova Child’, it outlines the gloriously understated craft that Shawn Ward puts into his music and perhaps signals a future direction as he retires FM ATTACK.
Longstanding fans will not be disappointed with ‘The Never Ending’, but for the curious who have not explored FM ATTACK before, this is an uplifting work which is just the tonic as the world comes out to play again. It may even lead to a journey to explore the catalogue of one of the North America’s leading synth exponents of the past 12 years.
With a sound seeded from post-punk, goth and new wave, VANDAL MOON are shaped as much by their use of drum machines and synthesizers as much as guitars and the inevitable deep baritone vocals.
Comprising of Blake Voss and Jeremy Einsiedler, the Santa Cruz duo opened their account with the self-released ‘Dreamless’ in 2013.
Their most recent long player ‘Black Kiss’ is their most electronic work yet, although the sound of THE PSYCHEDELIC FURS and THE SISTERS OF MERCY permeates throughout, perhaps not unsurprisingly as the two are linked by John Ashton who was the guitarist for the classic line-up of the former and an early producer of the latter.
In 2018 for the release of the ‘Wild Insane’ album, VANDAL MOON signed to Starfield Music, the record label of Shawn Ward, best known for his work as FM ATTACK. It is perhaps Ward who can be credited for championing VANDAL MOON to the wider synth community. Meanwhile notable collaborations with BETAMAXX and MECHA MAIKO have cemented that association further.
But despite their influences like THE CURE and DEPECHE MODE, Blake Voss and Jeremy Einsiedler have presented their own take on a classic approach with the potential to connect with wider tribes and enclaves. Front man Blake Voss talked about the rise of VANDAL MOON.
Who were the bands that inspired VANDAL MOON?
I was born right around the time THE SEX PISTOLS broke in the UK. So, by the time I was cognisant of what was going on around me, new wave was all over the radio. EURYTHMICS, TEARS FOR FEARS, BLONDIE… those were the bands of my early childhood. At the same time, my Dad’s record collection was filled with everything from Lou Reed to PINK FLOYD. Oddly enough, VANDAL MOON was initially envisioned as a sort of electronic-psychedelic project, and I think my childhood experiences, and imagination turned it into what it is now.
Had the use of synthesizers and drum machines in VANDAL MOON been more out of necessity to keep the creative process as a duo, or had you been like a conventional rock band previously?
Jeremy is my best friend. He and I have been playing music together since the late 90s, in all kinds of different bands. Noise bands, punk bands, acid folk… everything. We both loved the sh*t out of math rock, and all those post-rock bands of the early 2000s that nobody talks about anymore.
Typically, he played the drums and I played guitar and sang. But the synths and drum machines came into play because of our mutual love of the soundtrack to the movie ‘Drive’. That movie really affected us both in a profound way. It did that for many people.
Of course, the original European definition of goth which was doomy but melodic has mutated over the years into this American take which is more like dark metal, any thoughts?
I don’t know much about dark metal, but I love goth music and goth culture. I’m not a goth and I don’t pretend to make strictly goth music, but we have a lot of fans from the subculture. I’ve never met nicer, more thoughtful people. I’m just happy to have been accepted by some of them. And I love them back.
How do you look back on the first three VANDAL MOON albums and how you’ve developed?
We’ve moved in a lot of different directions as a band. THE BEATLES sort of set that precedent for pop music; never doing the same thing for too long. Eventually they became a corporation more than anything, but we all learned the same lessons from them.
Art isn’t about being born fully formed from the head of Zeus or something. It’s a journey and a process. It’s about leaving a beautiful mess behind you and letting the kids sort it all out.
Oh yeah, and being a celebrity sucks. THE BEATLES taught us that as well.
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK first heard of VANDAL MOON though collaborations with FM ATTACK and then MECHA MAIKO and BETAMAXX, so how did this synthwave association begin and has it expanded your audience?
I didn’t even know the synthwave community existed until a gentleman by the name of Axel from Neon Vice Magazine reached out to me around 2013. From there it just snowballed. The synthwave kids embraced me as an artist, and that was so heart-warming.
Because of that, I’ve been fortunate enough work with some artists who have forged a place for themselves in the history books. Shawn, Haley and Nick are all legends in their own right. These are people who have created something from nothing. Back when MTV mattered, they would have been featured on ‘120 Minutes’ or something. They deserve to be celebrated. History will not forget them, and neither will I.
You have described ‘Black Kiss’ as your most electronic record yet, had you been looking to evolve in this direction or did the acceptance by the synthwave community accelerate this and give you the confidence to make more of an artistic jump?
When I make a record, I imagine it in very abstract terms. To my imagination, this record wanted to be more angular and dark. A primarily electronic pallet was the best way for me to elaborate on that vision. I’ve written literally hundreds of songs on guitars, so it felt good to write this album on synthesizers. It gives it a different vibe. But who knows, maybe I’ll do something weird like a ‘VANDAL MOON: Unplugged’ album next. Or maybe a synthesizer style punk record. Who knows!
How would describe the creative dynamic within VANDAL MOON?
Much of the time, I’m alone in my studio, just f*cking around until something decent emerges. For every album, I write maybe 50 or 60 songs, and pick the best 10 or whatever. When I die, you can rummage through all my hard drives and release bullsh*t demos to your heart’s content. Jeremy and I get together a lot at his place, and drink vodka until we’re screaming at 2am and creeping the neighbours out. It’s a good way to let off some steam. A lot of songs come out of that process as well.
‘Wicked World’ does that epic gothic thing like FIELDS OF THE NEPHILM, did you know ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK was in the same class at school as The Neph’s drummer Nod but he was into jazz funk then!?! Were there any genres of music you explored before settling where you are now?
I’ve listened to and made all kinds of music. I listen to hip-hop, math rock, Turkish psych music… you name it. I’ve done soundtracks for documentaries where I’m playing a dumbek drum and a melodica and just chanting. I’ll play any instrument. I might play it sh*ttily, but I’ll play it nonetheless. I just love making music. F*ck everything else. I’m determined to succeed at creation. The rest is just happenstance.
‘Hurt’ really plays on making THE SISTERS OF MERCY’s template more synthy, had that been intentional?
I don’t intentionally model any of my songs after particular artists. The bands I liken us to, for PR purposes, are just based upon what people tell me we sound like. The thing I love about this project is that people struggle to pigeonhole us. VANDAL MOON sounds like a lot of different things, but we don’t fit neatly into any one genre. That means we’re doing something unique. That’s all I’ve ever wanted to do.
The moody gothwave of ‘We Are Electric’ sees you collaborate with FM ATTACK again, Shawn Ward really loves his dark musical side doesn’t he?
Shawn is the warmest, most enthusiastic and supportive person I know. He invited me out to this home in Mazatlan and we made a bunch of songs together for this last album ‘New World’. He’s my friend first and foremost. And yes, he loves dark music.
He understands how to create something dark that touches people’s hearts in a way that is multi-faceted, and not just like “oh me, I’m angry, boo hoo”. That’s because he is a special soul, and talented as hell. We’ll probably make a full-length FM ATTACK // VANDAL MOON album together at some point. It’ll be like THE GLOVE or something.
You’re not afraid to play with post-punk disco templates as ‘Suicidal City Girl’ shows? What had this been influenced by?
I think I was listening to a lot of Sally Dige when I made that song. You can hear it in there. Sally is so talented. I hope I get to work with her one day. She’s a real artist in the lifestyle sense.
Her life is art and art is her life. At least from what I can see. She draws, paints, makes music and film. She’s what we all aspire to. I was supposed to get my ass out to Berlin to do a music video with her, but it never happened.
‘Robot Lover’ is like DEPECHE MODE meeting THE MISSION, how did this track come together?
That’s a lovely compliment, thank you. This is one of those songs that Jeremy and I wrote together at his house. I think I wrote the bass line and Jeremy came up with the chords. Jeremy came up with the idea for me to sing higher during the verse line “we are enslaved for life, our pain is real”. And I think that’s what really pushed the song forward. It’s a very futurist song.
The apocalyptic gothic trance of ‘No Future’ no doubt surprised your fans, but how has the reception been on the whole to ‘Black Kiss’, has anyone said you are “betraying your goth roots”?
To hell with anyone who tells me I’m betraying my roots. The first CD I ever purchased with my own money was LL Cool J’s ‘Mama Said Knock You Out’, just based upon the power of the album art, so what the fuck do they know about my roots? I put ‘No Future’ last on the album because I felt like it was just a really nice closer. It’s aggressive, but in a more EDM kind of way. Of course, it’s not EDM. Nobody knows what it is, and that’s the beauty of it. It’s a really fun song to perform, and it’s very powerful at loud volumes. It’s a song dedicated to dystopia, and also to John Lydon. Thank you for everything, John. We love you.
How have European audiences taken to VANDAL MOON, will some of the directions taken on ‘Black Kiss’ make that more palatable for the future?
We live in interesting times. We have followers from all over the world. We get an extreme amount of support from Brazil and the rest of South America. But in the end, we’re all humans who hurt and laugh and love.
I don’t give too much credence to where our audience is from, but rather I try to embrace their love and acceptance and express gratitude back towards them as individuals. I don’t know if ‘Black Kiss’ will connect more with European audiences, but I believe it will connect with those who listen with open hearts.
The ‘Black Kiss’ album title does rather capture the zeitgeist, any thoughts?
I don’t groom my music to pump people up or bring them down, like Coca-Cola or something. I just follow my instincts and make songs based upon how I’m feeling at that moment. As a result, I think it sort of follows the emotional ups and downs of my human experience, which people can innately relate to.
I don’t want to make any commentary on what this album is or isn’t in terms of emotional content, because I want listeners to create their own experience and connections. The world is f*cked up, but it’s also filled with beauty.
The worldwide lockdown has made it difficult for everyone to make plans, but are there anymore collaborations planned for the future, or live appearances?
I’m working on a remix album with a bunch of insane artists that I won’t name here. But rest assured, it’s packed with talent. All 10 songs from ‘Black Kiss’ will be remixed by 10 different artists. I can’t wait. I also have like 3 different, full on collaborations that are in the works, which I think will surprise people.
ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK gives its warmest thanks to Blake Voss
During the MTV era, the advent of college radio with an Anglophile stance on American campuses and stations such as KROQ in Los Angeles featuring DJs like expat Englishman Richard Blade had a huge effect on youth in the US.
Considering themselves smarter than the average mainstream BON JOVI fan, this audience facilitated a breakthrough for a number of darker tinged acts alongside the bands who had been featured in John Hughes teen flicks like ‘Pretty In Pink’, ‘The Breakfast Club’ and ‘Some Kind Of Wonderful’.
So unlike the UK where they were more than likely to have totally different audiences, American fans of SIMPLE MINDS, DEPECHE MODE, OMD and ERASURE could often be seen attending the concerts of THE CURE, SIOUXSIE & THE BANSHEES, THE PSYCHEDLIC FURS, ECHO & THE BUNNYMEN, THE SMITHS and THE SISTERS OF MERCY alongside the goths and positive punks.
As a result, the New Wave movement in North America turned out in a way that would be considered incongruous by British music fans. But what it did culturally was influence generations of aspiring music creatives to mix and match genres without necessarily being self-conscious about it.
One of those acts is California’s VANDAL MOON. With a sound seeded from post-punk, goth and new wave, they are shaped as much by their use of drum machines and synthesizers as much as guitars and the inevitable deep baritone vocals.
Front man Blake Voss manages to sound somewhere between Andrew Eldritch and Richard Butler, while instrumentalist Jeremy Einsiedler is the more electronically inclined of the pair. Having guested on records by FM ATTACK, BETAMAXX and MECHA MAIKO, the Santa Cruz duo has ended up with a foot each in the synthwave scene.
As a result, ‘Black Kiss’ is by their own admission is the duo’s most purely electronic work yet, largely written using synths while being inspired by THE CURE, DEPECHE MODE, THE SISTERS OF MERCY and THE PSYCHEDELIC FURS.
Conceived around the futuristic love story of two androids escaping enslavement, ‘Black Kiss’ begins with the profound statement that is ‘Hurt’; now if THE SISTERS OF MERCY’s ‘Lucretia My Reflection’ was redone with synths, it would sound like this.
‘Dead’ plays along with a more typical gothic template using a guitar-laced setting, but pretty cascading synth hooks add to the chilling atmosphere while metallic percussive samples provide some industrial edge. Meanwhile, the ‘Black Kiss’ title track signals impending doom and chipmunk voice samples provide a foreboding not-of-this-world aesthetic.
The more obviously synth driven ‘We Are Electric’ uses pulses and drones simultaneously for its low end, penetrating the darkwave via its hybrid overtones. This is perhaps not surprising as FM ATTACK’s Shawn Ward makes a notable guest contribution.
However, ‘We Live Forever’ surprises as a moody synthwave ballad; featuring Leanne Kelly from the San Francisco indie-pop duo NEW SPELL on vocals, it sees an understated Blake Voss adapting to a less overwrought singing style and delivering it very well.
But the frantic ‘Wicked World’ puts everything back on the epic gothic path with a thundering run of percussion that recalls Stevenage’s finest FIELDS OF THE NEPHILM and their ‘Moonchild’; trivia fact pop pickers, ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK was in the same class at school as The Neph’s drummer Nod!
‘Robot Lover’ enjoyably passes ‘Enjoy The Silence’ through a Wayne Hussey filter while ‘Suicidal City Girl’ is superb, showcasing electronic post-punk disco at its best with enthralling echoes of THE DANSE SOCIETY.
With the more laid back approach premiered on ‘We Live Forever’, ‘Pretend To Die’ sees Shawn Ward return on synths and here the FM ATTACK synthy shades are strong.
Hypnotic to the point of being gothic trance, the apocalyptic closer ‘No Future’ is another surprise, a magnificent four-to-the-floor dance number complete with squealing drops and a mighty climax. If this track doesn’t crossover into the German alternative club scene, then ELECTRICITYCLUB.CO.UK will eat its copy of SIOUXSIE & THE BANSHEES ‘Superstition’…
But despite all these retrospective alternative influences, what VANDAL MOON have come up with is something unique at this moment in time. THE CURE and THE SISTERS OF MERCY were never as synthy as VANDAL MOON, so with their melting of styles, Voss and Einsiedler have presented their own take on a familiar classic approach.
Mixed and mastered by Maurizio Baggio who worked on THE SOFT MOON’s ‘Criminal’ and the BOY HARSHER breakthrough album ‘Careful’, ‘Black Kiss’ sits up there as a great modern alternative pop record with its gothwave aesthetics. If it had been released in 1984, many of these songs would have gone down extremely well at The Batcave, the famous London goth haunt where Hamish Macdonald and Rusty Egan DJed. Today, they wouldn’t sound at all out of place at Slimelight.
A fine record that captures a dystopian outlook on life with an appealing electronic sensibility, ‘Black Kiss’ has the potential to connect with a number of different tribes and audiences.