The Soft Moon : Criminal

Luis Vasquez seems like a guy with a lot of torment. He seems like a guy with a lot of existential turmoil to unpack. His work as The Soft Moon is a discography of pain, anger, and dark thoughts wrapped in a tattered post-punk bow. The music is always based in rhythm and percussive sway, followed by industrial-grade Goth. Tribal, echoed rhythms backing flanged bass lines and nightmare melodies that would sound at home in some underground S&M club in gritty nightlife Berlin in the late 70s/early 80s. The first two records were nearly instrumental affairs with Vasquez’ voice occasionally peaking out from behind the shadows, heavily effected. But on 2015s excellent Deeper The Soft Moon emerged as more of a singer-songwriter project than it ever had before. Vasquez seemed to be trying to exorcise some ancient demons that he’d been carrying his whole life.

Now, The Soft Moon return with a new album called Criminal on Sacred Bones Records(the first for the New York label, with his previous albums released by Captured Tracks.) Criminal continues Vasquez’ exorcising of past demons. The album is dark, heavy, uninhibited, and recalls Trent Reznor’s most jagged and personal watershedding in NIN, as well as Robert Smith’s antagonizing of death and despair on albums like Faith and Pornography. Criminal is The Soft Moon’s heaviest and most earnest album yet.

When asked about his new album, Luis Vasquez said this, “Guilt is my biggest demon and has been following me since childhood. Everything I do strengthens the narrative that I am guilty” Vasquez reflects. “The concept of ‘Criminal’ is a desperate attempt to find relief by both confessing to my wrongdoings and by blaming others for their wrongdoings that have affected me.” With guilt as a jumping off point, “Burn” opens The Soft Moon’s new album with a healthy dose of industrial techno and self-hatred as Vasquez repeats the line “I can’t control myself” over and over again until he leads us into a soaring chorus(well, at least soaring for The Soft Moon.) The song is built with precision and steely perfection, building into a Wax Trax-like jubilation. “Choke” is slow and menacing. Vasquez covers his vocals in effects, like someone wearing a mask to cover their shame. Here, this might be more for show; The Soft Moon’s own morality play covered in Latin rhythms, nightlife hedonism, and electronic provocation. “Give Something” wavers in the air like a thick smoke. It brings to mind early Cure and darker Depeche Mode. “I don’t wanna lose my mind/that’s why I keep you so close” Vasquez sings over prickly synth lines and a melancholy bass line.

Elsewhere, “Like A Father” is an all-out techno fever dream. “Something’s got to give” and “You’re the ghost of my problem” are sung by a disjointed voice over a dance floor-ready club beat. “It Kills” brings to mind The Soft Moon’s fever dream of an album Zeros with its mix of mournful longing and syncopated desperation. “ILL” captures the claustrophobic doom of Aphex Twin while peppering the proceedings with Afro-Cuban rhythmic flair. Vasquez is a master builder of electronic walls of sound, as this track proves heartily. “Born Into This” is pushed along with industrial heft as machine gun blasts of percussion push the track into Suicide territory. “Criminal” pulls you into a cycle of regret and need for forgiveness.

There isn’t anybody making confessional music like The Soft Moon. Vasquez makes musical art that is immediate and all-encompassing. He creates a multi-emotional experience every time he puts out an album. A Soft Moon record wants to engage all the senses. You not only hear The Soft Moon’s music, but you can feel it. It’s a textural experience. Criminal is an album that wades in guilt; both deserved and self-inflicted. Whether or not Luis Vasquez finds some kind of closure remains to be seen. Regardless, it’s an engaging and visceral experience.

8.3 out of 10



The Soft Moon : Deeper

Luis Vasquez, aka The Soft Moon, over the course of two full-length albums, one ep, and several singles has gone and made his own little musical world where there’s very little light. Up to this point his music consists of a mix of gothic post-punk, dark techno, and the sound of a club remix of Pornography-era Cure songs. Even though vocally the most you get out of Vasquez is pants, wheezes, and yelps, you still get the feeling that the music he makes is incredibly personal to him. The Soft Moon is the sound of an underground Berlin night club in the early 80s. It’s tense, dark, sexual, and primal.

Luis Vasquez’ new album as The Soft Moon is called Deeper, and it lives up to its name. It’s just as dark as previous albums, but more focused on emotions other than desire. This album feels like Luis Vasquez is working through some things in his life. The wheezes and yelps are quelled by Vasquez’ actual singing voice. Musically it’s still very visceral and primal, but Deeper feels more confessional. It’s the best Soft Moon album yet.

It’s very suiting that this record opens with a wavering mound of noise called “Inward”, as that’s where this album takes us. “Inward” to “Black”, we are treated to a sound that Trent Reznor wishes he could get back to. This album is the most NIN-like that The Soft Moon has gotten to. If I had to compare it to a NIN album, I’d say The Fragile. Like Mr. Reznor’s darkly confessional opus, Deeper is a brooding and bruised journal entry in Vasquez’ life. But unlike Trent Reznor’s near-death experience of an album, The Soft Moon’s confessional opus feels oddly healthy. Therapeutic, even. “Far” is a fast-paced Tram ride into the night. Staring out the window to traces of light and wall. I hate to beat a dead horse, but The Soft Moon still remind me of classic early-80s Cure. The flanged bass and guitar really do it. At times this great song also brings to mind Oliver Ackermann’s A Place To Bury Strangers, albeit with less ear-bleeding. “Wasting” sounds like a drop into the abyss, as guitar, keys, and bass echo into the darkness. Vasquez starts out singing, but his voice trails off into and endless delay. He sounds like he’s disintegrating as the rhythm picks up and his voice comes back into focus.

On previous records, Vasquez hinted at sounds that resembled NIN. I think The Soft Moon’s sound is a kindred spirit to Trent Reznor’s noise-making prowess; while at the same time not aping or copying. Luis Vasquez has a very unique style that mixes dark techno, post-punk, and Gothic bands like Bauhaus, Joy Division, and The Cure. His music isn’t nearly as claustrophobic as Reznor’s compressed insanity. “Wrong” is a perfect example of that. With the robotic voice, industrial groove, and bubbling synths, you get the feeling of Kraftwerk being remixed by Reznor. It’s clean and precise, but still jagged, rough, and sweat-inducing. Vasquez also adds an Afro-Cuban flair in the percussive heartbeat. Title track “Deeper” is another example of the tribal and primal percussion that Vasquez has woven into this new album. It’s heavy, intense, and very sexual.

Elsewhere, “Try” brings that flanged bass back with Vasquez’ longing vocals, “Desertion” pulsates with a bass-heavy rhythm, and “Without” is a piano-driven ballad, bringing to mind NINs “Something I Can Never Have”. “Feel” is classicist post-punk groove. A great Gothic dance track, something that would’ve fit nicely on Cocteau Twins’ Garlands. “Being” opens with the sound of a tape recorder being played, rewound, and re-played as Vasquez’ voice repeats “I can’t see my face, I don’t know who I am.” Musically the song is driving and intense.

I think The Soft Moon set out to make a more personal, inward-looking album and Luis Vasquez succeeded in that. Deeper is every bit as dark, intense, and brooding as previous albums. But at the core of this record is a heart that seems to have been hurt. Deeper is the process of healing, and the search for light at the end of a very dark, winding tunnel.

8.8 out of 10


Sunday Random Nonsense

DSC04427Not much to report. Just wanted to share a couple things. One of the comics my son and I found was a Dr. Who comic from 1981. It’s Dr. Who Vol. 1 No. 58 February 1981 to be exact. I’s not worth anything, it’s just something we thought was pretty interesting. My oldest daughter is a big Dr. Who fan, in particular the 9th,10, and 11th Doctors. This comic concerns the 4th Doctor, Tom Baker, battling against the Malevilus, “The Gods of the Roman Empire”. I won’t bore you with the details, I’ll just say it’s a good little read if you’re into that sort of thing. Makes me want to go back and get acquainted with the older years of Dr. Who. I’ve enjoyed the newer seasons, starting with Christopher Eccleston, but I’ve not delved back into those classic years.

Also yesterday I received my Soft Moon 7″ for “Feel” with the b-side “Hunger”. Really enjoyed spinning that one. If you haven’t dug into The Soft Moon’s catalog you really should. Luis Vasquez, in my opinion, will end up being as important to electronic music as Trent Reznor has been. Truly inspiring music. If these new songs are any indication this new album is going to be incredible. You heard it here first, kids.

I’d like to thank Mr. 1537 for the inspiration for the comics. He does some amazing comics posts over at his home. Just look at this here.

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