There’s a really dark, palpable mood that emanates from Xander Harris’ new album Villains of Romance. His previous records all carried with them a heavy air and brooding stare, as if you walked into an underground club that seemed to lead directly into some Gothic alternate universe. A place where leather was a coat of arms and communication was limited to circuit-driven thoughts and indifferent stares. Always teetering the line between dark beauty and bent light skewed through stained glass.
But with Villains of Romance there’s a coalescence to these songs that give this record a narrative through line. Maybe it’s the fact that the album was released before Harris had intended to release it, or the fact that the mixture of trance-like beats, heavy synth, and dance floor aggressiveness come together perfectly. With every Xander Harris album there’s been a progression forward, and Villains of Romance might be the biggest progression yet.
Xander Harris, aka Justin Sweatt, had planned Villains of Romance as a double LP that spanned all his interests and influences. An epic release of light and dark. An accident in New Orleans led to a stall on the progression of the record, so in frustration he released Villains of Romance at just the halfway point. I’m certain that the double LP version would have been amazing, but as it stands this leaner version of the record has an urgency and at times a crazed paranoia to it that is far more revealing and engaging than a double LP could ever be.
“Bleeding Meridians” is slinky and sexy in a Catherine Deneuve from The Hunger sort of way. It’s methodical and pulls you in with its electronic beat and pulsating synth. You can’t deny it. You’re at its mercy. “First Taste of Hate” feels like a panic attack put to music. It’s quick pace and frantic synth line sounds as if something menacing is just around the corner, whether it’s real or just in your head. “Individual Outs” has a Nine Inch Nails feel to it. With its lone piano line and distant synths wavering in the air above it all, there’s an exquisite melancholy and pained solitude here. It’s a gorgeous track.
The propulsive “Stranger Danger” is like classic Depeche Mode. It has an instant familiarity to it, as if some lost memory from 1982 appeared out of nowhere to remind you to get lost in the rhythm. Of course Harris adds his own dark lean to that DM formula giving the track its own unique language. “Mall Walk” instantly puts me into some old, abandoned behemoth of a complex from the Reagan-era. A monstrosity of capitalism and waste with an ice rink in the middle, now with weeds and trees growing through the foundation. The simple rhythm and subtle synth touches makes me want to strut and swagger past a Chess King or Musicland and nonchalantly stare at the occupants. Of course I was never cool enough to fit anywhere, but this excellent track makes that awkwardness a little easier. “Feral Stare” seeps with attitude and ominous tones with piano and what sounds like real drums. The bass line pulsates and moves. “Wither Lace” closes out the album on a beautifully ornate note. With vocals by Nicolas Nadeau, the track sounds like a monumental Euro pop ballad from the 80s drenched in mountains of glorious reverb. This would’ve sat nicely on Vienna by Ultravox.
The through line I take away from Villains of Romance is solitude with something slightly sinister. Late night gambles in less than safe situations; mall walks alone with nothing but a pack of cigarettes and an Orange Julius. It’s you in a room elegantly ornamented, candles flickering, with just your thoughts there to haunt you like a 200-year old specter staring at you from the mirror on the wall.
Villains of Romance is gorgeous, desolate, and exquisite.
8.1 out of 10
<p><a href=”https://vimeo.com/275620330″>Xander Harris – Villains of Romance</a> from <a href=”https://vimeo.com/hauntlove”>Justin Miller</a> on <a href=”https://vimeo.com”>Vimeo</a>.</p>