Trentemøller : Memoria

hercules and love affair in amber review

What a beautiful chameleon. Trentemøller, an artist known for complex and alt-rock adjacent darkwave, here turns in a much more sophisticated set, on that is a whirligig dancing between a million varied styles. There are songs that, in one gesture, are M83-sized arena goth anthems, the universe in your dim-lit bedroom, galaxies spinning against posters of The Cure. In another, downtempo and ambient music creeps in, like JMW Turner paintings, stalactites of darkness and light dancing in some great abyssal mouth. In yet others, it’s shoegaze, it’s post-rock, it’s EBM, it’s 4AD. There is a resolute unwillingness to stay in one place; shimmering guitars succumb to the tinkle of techno which gives birth to the gothic “I Zimbra” afrobeat percussion. It’s the jungle, the city street, the bedroom, the emptiness of space, the morgue, the cemetery, the hospital room. Is that electronic warble a heart rate monitor or an oncoming warhead?

This vast plurality could on paper be the record’s undoing but Trentemøller keeps a close ear to the emotional thread that ties each piece to each other, producing a work that feels more like a film score to an imaginary reel than a scattered collection of sonic ideas. There are no words to most of these songs, to their great benefit; not because the vocal songs are weak but because they allow just the right amount of negative space between those bits of diegetic evidence to let us play in the unfettered realms of exegetic inference. There is something satanic in the air, a secular evil, the kind that overrides you when you know death is the true end and all those that died unjust deaths get no justice, the cold and grim urban paranoia that renders you an animal, all spaces the dark woods beyond your uncle’s rural one-story house. These songs can take place in any non-competing visions of the same riven universe, where lust emerges at the crossroads of desire and terror. That’s an important aspect of this type of goth music; it is not abstracted so far from the realm of the sensuous that it loses track of eroticism as one of the fundamental components of the genre dating back to Rimbaud, Baudelaire, Byron, and further to the strange continental spirits congregating in disused churches and rambling roman ruins to conduct wicked anti-christian pagan rites in fading starlight.

If these thoughts echo what I said a few years ago when reviewing Obverse, the previous record by this artist, that should come as no surprise. Trentemøller’s body of work is not one of rapid evolutionary change but slowly coalescing perfection of craft. The project has been ongoing for coming on twenty years now and this aesthetic aim has been visible the entire time, each record carving away one more layer of simulacrum and ironic recapture to get closer and closer to the real thing. Admittedly, Trentemøller has been within the realm of the real for these gothic cathedrals for the past couple of records, so the advancements present here may be more noticeable on an academic rather than lay level, little correlations of things like chorused bass tone to classic goth records that perhaps were off by mere hairs on more recent works. The refrain remains the same however: in a world of ebbing and waning interest in the space of contemporary gothic artists, the way Trentemøller seems to have faded away from the limelight in the early 2010s where he appeared on the Carson Daly show and played a critically acclaimed set at Coachella is an endlessly infuriating one when they seem endlessly capable of producing records as remarkably varied and tremendously crafted as this. All fans of the worlds of post-punk and its ravening romantic darkness and terror, I implore you: spin Memoria.

Label: In My Room

Year: 2022

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