(Artwork care of Karen Ramsay (www.karenramsay.com), profile photo care of brianlackeyphotography.com)

Tuesday, April 2, 2013

Recording review - My Gold Mask, Leave Me Midnight (2013)

Inky dark vocals and Gothic echoes

Creepy torment, dark shadows, and Gothic echoes fill My Gold Mask's debut album. Leave Me Midnight is full of songs that bind low-fi elements carefully layered with a retro production style marked by crisp, reverbed isolation. The band develops a sound like the master recordings were left in a haunted house to soak up the ambiance until even the more pop-oriented tracks take on a pensive quality. It's fitting that the songs are rooted in synth-pop, but the beats aren’t anchored to the dance floor. Lead singer, Gretta Rochelle has a richly expressive voice that invites comparisons to Siouxsie Sioux, with some of Amanda Palmer's modern theatricality. The counter-rhythms and jigsaw tight arrangements push well past any genre limitations, occasionally reveling in complexity without sabotaging intensity.

Unquestionably, though, the best song on the album is the simplest. “Without” opens with a staccato guitar that tips a hat to the Cure, while Rochelle's voice hovers between seductive and petulant.
Love, oh it’s taken me so long...
Love, oh it’s tearing me apart...
Love, I don’t even know what for...
I’m without you 
Her hopelessness is raw and honest; the spare musical accompaniment lets the words sit and ripple outwards. That first verse sets the hook, but the second verse reveals that this is a duet, with Jack Armondo repeating the lyrics. Unlike the unadorned female vocal, his lines eventually pick up a harmony part. The mantra-like repetition of the last line drives home the forced separation between the two sides; each of us is alone, wanting the same connection. Armondo's calm delivery is a nice contrast to Rochelle’s flash on the rest of the album. Somewhere between Dave Gahan (Depeche Mode) and Peter Murphy (Bauhaus), he grounds the song, supporting its powerful fatalism.

The rest of Leave Me Midnight measures up as the band tempers their retro synth-pop with an even older sound, rooted in the '60s. Songs like “Some Secrets” draw upon that era's experimental aesthetic, drenching low-fi precision in a thick coat of reverb. When the rhythm kicks in to transform the song, Rochelle's voice is inky pop perfection. As the intensity grows, it sounds more like My Gold Mask managed to record the reflected echoes of an idealized live version. Similarly old-school, “Burn Like The Sun” uses garage psych to set the scene for some kind of pagan rite. Rochelle's tone is a bit brighter than Siouxsie Sioux’s, but in moments like “Nightfalls” or the verses of “Lost In My Head”, her voice is resurrected. But it’s not a slavish imitation; it’s just a shared expressiveness. As “Song of Wound” offers its arty, Bauhaus vibe, her drawn out phrases and wordless singing raise that familiar vocal spectre to caper with the tribal drums. Leave Me Midnight is cloudy like absinthe and just as bittersweet.

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