Sometimes you have the good fortune to experience music in the context of a particular event or significant time in your life. I first sat down with Zeros, the second LP from San Francisco coldwave group The Soft Moon, as Hurricane Sandy slowly bore down on me and my compatriots in downtown Philadelphia. Amid wet and deserted city streets, quarter- and half-full businesses, and doomsaying media chatter, Zeros came across as a chilly 38 minutes that crawled and yet still fascinated — like watching the impending end of the world unfold before you.
These are punched-up ways of saying The Soft Moon specialize in revisiting the sounds of minimal synth-based art-rock and early industrial music. Luis Vasquez started this work by himself in 2009; with Zeros and touring commitments he’s brought along producer Monte Vallier (best known for his work with echoing rockers Weekend) and four session players. Still, this is intensely personal music, entertainingly crushing in its loneliness and sense of foreboding.
Vasquez’s songwriting is barely that, and with good reason. His voice forces the imagination to work overtime in order to guess which circle of Hell we’ve reached. Vasquez seems to have cut back on vocals on each of The Soft Moon’s three releases. Obscured by reverb and decay they’re particularly light on specifics on Zeros: “Want” and “Machines” get only a few repeated lines, while others earn only spacious, specious words (“Insides“). Vasquez skillfully reduces himself to a rhythmic and atmospheric instrument just as much as the room-filling drums, sci-fi spaceship synths, and despairing arpeggios we hear in songs like “Crush” and the title track.
This album and another great 2012 release — Worship from A Place to Bury Strangers — arrive at the same sonic points from different directions, a blitzkrieg of electro doom. APTBS tightly screwed down the guitars that first garnered them praise and made their drums more mechanical, militaristic, imposing. The Soft Moon move forward by drawing further inward, making idiosyncratic post-punk that demands attention by suggesting, like Suicide and The Cure before them, that they’d rather not be there at all.
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Adam Blyweiss is associate editor of Treble. A graphic designer and design teacher by trade, Adam has written about music since his 1990s college days and been published at MXDWN and e|i magazine. Based in Philadelphia, Adam has also DJ’d for terrestrial and streaming radio from WXPN and WKDU.