Crimes AM - Softcore
Crimes AM

The abbreviating of Crimes At Midnight’s moniker comes at an appropriate enough time, signalling a change in sound and mood from their first single to something both broader and more cryptic. Bouncing synth lines still keep much of debut LP Softcore moving in an outrun fashion, but murkier, sickly bass and trap sounds carry things into darker territory for much of the runtime. The themes of perversity and depravity which have flitted about outrun (see Perturbator) are taken to garish extremes, as if a Nagel print had been left in a grimy back alley for a couple of weeks, soaking up piss and mold. Sampled recollections of abuse and corruption are pitched down: druggy conversations you wish you hadn’t overheard at the afterparty. Despite Softcore‘s focus on the most material of subjects – our bodies and their abuse, physical and chemical – I can’t help but compare it to S U R V I V E’s cosmically-minded debut. Although worlds apart in subject matter, both acts find dividends in switching between sharp, crystalline synths and smudgy atmospherics. Insert your own inversion of Oscar Wilde’s aphorism about the gutter and the stars.

Mahr - Her Embrace
Her Manifesto
Pale Noir

I’ll never accuse Mahr of being too on the nose. The Pale Noir label boss has almost seemingly gone out of her way to avoid hogging the spotlight while promoting the other artists she’s working with: Mahr’s nominal debut, Her Embrace, was in fact a carefully sequenced suite of mixes done for others (Mushy, V▲LH▲LL, ∆AIMON and the like). While Her Manifesto certainly puts Mahr’s original compositions center stage, it’s still not about to reach out and throttle idle listeners or passers by. I’d say that’s a shame, but I’m pretty sure that hushed secrecy is part of what makes this record’s varied minimalism so charming. Unlike plenty of other ambient (or at least ambientesque, if you’ll allow me) discussed on this site, there’s very little that’s “cinematic” or “soundtrack” styled on Her Embrace. Rather, it’s a record that requires careful, direct listening (even if it wouldn’t be so gauche as to insist). Once you’re across that threshold of commitment, though, the variety of uses to which Mahr lends her toolkit of washes, clicks, and pulses is wholly impressive. The tinkling spider glitches of “Seduction” should, in theory, connote the abstract IDM of decades past, but it’s a far cooler, more cavernous space which is carved out by its slow builds and arrangement. Even at its most direct – the loping “Geometric Dreams”, which doesn’t sit too far from Comaduster – Her Manifesto seems to nudge the listener into careful consideration of timbre. Like finer whiskies, Her Manifesto can certainly be glugged back for a more utilitarian enjoyment, but give it your undivided attention and the craft and care which has gone into it quickly becomes apparent.

M‡ЯC▲LL▲ - The Stone And The Heart
The Stone And The Heart

Establishing an identity in the way of a scene imploding and going supernova can be tricky. There’s the temptation to skirt over to the latest adjacent micro-genre just beginning to coalesce and form a nebula (and sure to have an equally short lifespan as the previous star system), lest one be sucked into the black hole of the Internet’s amnesia. M‡ЯC▲LL▲ have operated out of no such fear, and have instead shot out along their own post-witch house course like a glittering, blood-shaded comet (okay, enough with the space analogy). Bit by bit, track by track, a sound has emerged on EPs like their latest which can be traced back several years to ur-witchy sources, but has slowly drifted away, becoming its own creation (or bloodwave, as the band dubs it). M‡ЯC▲LL▲’s trademark tight sequencing is in full effect here: the insistent ladder scales of “MØNØL‡TĦ” are far more baroque than trance, while the soft attack of the title track’s synths feel far warmer and more indebted to classic synthpop in tonality if not remotely in mood. Hovering washes of high sines still enshroud then elude the main riffs like ghostly shrieks winding through the night, but as evidenced by “Burning The Candle At Both Ends”, these have been feeling less of a primary concern and more gothic window dressing in the recent M‡ЯC▲LL▲ playbook. The ferreting out of a gutsier sound that’s more meaty splatter than ectoplasmic atmosphere shows how far they’ve come, and also how fun they’ve been to keep a hold on.