Swedish trio Principe Valiente (not actually named after the Spanish translation of a certain interminable comic strip saga) are going for the epic and dark brand of post-punk which more than a couple of bands still in the major label rat’s maze have been working at for a few years now, often becoming critical pariahs in the process (why doth this world despise thou so, White Lies?). Maybe this sort of sound is best left to those free of unit shifting expectations; having The Danse Society as a point of comparison is a lot less fraught than Interpol, and certainly more fun.
So what do we have? A debut LP characterized by a sweeping, submerged sound that calls to mind Canada’s own late, great The Floor (as well as the completely missing in action I Love You But I’ve Chosen Darkness). Guitars chime and skitter, vocals sustain more than move, and everything is filtered through a gauzy sheen which somehow makes the whole affair simultaneously more restrained and more expressive. It’s a heady, if familiar, blend of elements, and you should know within a few seconds of any of their songs if this sort of thing is up your alley.
For a record with a clearly established sound and group of influences, this LP explores a relatively wide (if subtle) range of moods, with varying results. Principe Valiente’s “clear the runway and take off into uplifting anthem skies” tracks (“In My Arms”, “Afraid”) sometimes collapse under their own weight and risk blotting out pretty damn accomplished arrangements and production work. For my money, this record works best when it stays brooding. Dour cuts like “Before You Knew Me” and “The Night” are great, as is the more understated and complex “Stay”. Changing things up right at the end on “Dance Like There’s No Tomorrow”, the record closes on a very plaintive, very pretty, and legitimately sad note.
While far from perfect, there’s ambition aplenty on Principe Valiente’s debut. Taking a particular post-punk template which we’re all well familiar with, Principe Valiente test the waters of structure and songwriting and succeed more often than they fail. I’ll be enjoying this release for some time, and can’t help but think that this is a group which will outdo themselves the next time out.