Ryan Patterson has always been a little goth. The former frontman of Louisville hardcore stalwarts Coliseum has long nodded to post-punk in his band’s music, and over time that element became even more pronounced. On albums such as 2013’s Sister Faith and 2015’s Anxiety’s Kiss, the influence of Killing Joke and The Cure took on an even greater role than that of Negative Approach or Discharge. Coliseum was never all that straightforward of a hardcore band, however, and even as far back as 2010’s House With A Curse, it seemed unlikely that their more aggressive instincts would remain as overt or overbearing. And for that matter, Patterson recently admitted to not feeling all that comfortable playing heavy music. Beneath the band’s burliest riffs, there was a weird, skinny kid in eyeliner ready to break free.
Fotocrime, Patterson’s new band, is the project that finally allows those post-punk and new wave textures to be brought to the forefront. And it doesn’t feel the slightest bit out of character for Patterson, whose songwriting suggested he’s been ready to make this move for at least a few years. Patterson had become something of an expert at finding a sweet spot between intricate, gloomy melodies and more muscular instrumental arrangements, and in some respects Fotocrime is a continuation of what he’d already been doing, but on a less aggressive scale. On Principle of Pain, the group’s full-length debut, Patterson and his bandmates Shelley Anderson and Nick Thieneman find even more space to explore within that shadowy terrain when the overdrive is scaled back and the drums don’t thump with bone-cracking impact.
The open chord and pulse of drum machine that opens “Nadia (Last Year’s Men)” immediately ushers in an aesthetic of sexy melancholy, at once spacious and driving. Yet beneath the alluring aesthetics is a critique of the kind of toxic masculinity, but with a somewhat cynical take on the cyclical nature of shitty behavior: “Nadia they lie, last year’s men won’t hide us from the next one.” “Love In a Dark Time,” meanwhile, shows that Patterson is still a master of creating dense, tuneful riffs, albeit in the service of a more atmospheric sound, and “Don’t Pity the Young” is more heavily driven by synths, more in the vein of Cold Cave’s buoyant brooding.
Throughout Principle of Pain, Fotocrime make excellent use of space, making each riff or rhythm stand on its own by never allowing it to get too crowded. But considering Patterson’s been known to record some ass kickers in his time, it’s refreshing to hear a song like “Confusing World” that’s a bit more dense and richly textured. It’s never overkill, just heavy enough to stand alone amid the starkest material on the album. Like the previously mentioned Cold Cave, Fotocrime is a prime example of how well veteran punks take to a goth aesthetic, and Principle of Pain feels like a natural transition for a songwriter whose dark side has never been too far from the surface.
Jeff Terich is the founder and editor of Treble. He's been writing about music for 20 years and has been published at American Songwriter, Bandcamp Daily, Reverb, Spin, Stereogum, uDiscoverMusic, VinylMePlease and some others that he's forgetting right now. He's still not tired of it.