This is just the week to be writing about an artist called The Soft Moon, especially given my penchant for all things lunar. Berlin-based Luis Vasquez is originally from the Mojave Desert, the first artist I’ve come across to be so. To all intents and purposes, it doesn’t sound like it’s been a breeze.
Criminal is The Soft Moon’s fourth album and one that continues a successful creative relationship with producer Maurizio Baggio. Described as a ‘confessional album’, the album has a certain catholic guilt. But these are sins confessed in the cool, dim-lit interior of a church built in post-war Germany.
The tracks themselves are named with a similar monosyllabic simplicity: ‘Burn’, ‘Choke’, ‘Criminal’, ‘Young’. Typical of music that is heavily influenced by krautrock, Criminal is marked by repetition and the instruments of industry. The vocal remains suppressed, clouded by layers of effects. There is often an urgency to the music. On ‘Burn’ the rhythm becomes increasingly frantic and adrenalin-fuelled. It is entirely in keeping with Vasquez’s announcement, ‘I can’t control myself’ and ‘I can’t even trust myself.’ ‘Choke’ has an aptly suffocated vocal under the clamour of an industrial hammer whilst he invites you to ‘crush’ him. ‘Young’ is Vasquez tapping with his lighter on the water pipes in his solitary cell, desperate to connect with others.
Many of the songs give a sense of disorientation and whooziness. The vocal on ‘Give Something’ moves in and out of the mix, effects and even pitches. It gains confidence midway, becoming clearer and more resonant. Meanwhile in the background, it sounds like Gary Numan has been brought in to twiddle with the special effects knob on the ROLAND. ‘ILL’ (capitalised) sounds as if it should have been written by Kenneth Tynan or Morrissey. Instead it is a short, abstract instrumental. It is the sound of being mentally lashed, head throbbing with anxiety and the randomness of self-loathing. There are electronic swoops and chaos before the disorder of the mind clatters like a set of pans on the kitchen floor.
There is plenty of warping and distortion such as that on ‘The Pain’, all of which seems reflective of Vasquez’s state of mind. But this is certainly one of the most ‘pop’ tracks on Criminal. It’s upbeat in a The Normal ‘Warm Leatherette’ kind of way despite lyrics dripping with self-doubt, ‘How can you love someone like me?’ There is even greater fuzziness on ‘It Kills’. He captures those tortuous moments when you can only live from minute to minute and the thought of enduring another fifteen hours of life before sleep is all too much.
However smudged or besmirched his soul is, the beauty of this album must surely go some way to exonerating him.
The Blood Moon. The Soft Moon. The Super Moon.
Criminal is out now on Sacred Bones.