X-Marks The Pedwalk
The House Of Rain
When Sevren Ni-Arb abruptly reactivated X-Marks The Pedwalk after a decade-plus hiatus, long-term rivets had a tough time triangulating the sound and shape of the project’s new iteration. Sure, 2010’s Inner Zone Journey had tunes like “Seventeen” which didn’t sound too far removed from a tuned-up revisitation of late-period X-Marks’ speedy club appeal which paved the way for futurepop, but the textured atmospherics and melancholic harmonies which rode alongside it pointed to something else. 2012’s The Sun, The Cold, And My Underwater Fear caused more befuddlement, flipping between moody downtempo and the sort of artful club feints wonks like me love Frank Spinath for. With third post-reactivation album The House Of Rain, it finally feels as though we have a sense of what this new vision of X-Marks The Pedwalk is all about.
Although Ni-Arb’s classical training always poked through in vintage Pedwalk’s more dramatic moments, on The House Of Rain these are directly coupled with his talent for studio polish and given as much room to roam through the tracks as can be given. The end result, at least from the listener’s perspective, is a sound which combines current high-gloss industrial soundscapes with perennial darkwave themes and motifs, perhaps not so different in mood if not in component elements from the likes of Collide, or a more ornate version of oft-overlooked Daniel Meyer/Victoria Lloyd collaboration HMB.
The core song structures underneath The House Of Rain‘s baroque presentation are just as appealing as anything in the Pedwalk back catalog, but their kaleidoscopic framing provides innumerable baubles and intrigue. There’s a remarkably simple groove at the bottom of “Amplified Dichotimy”, but it’s covered in such a shrouded mass of sound design that even the sharply rhythmic vocals seem like will o the wisps, pulling the ear in a variety of misleading directions. Similarly, perhaps the closest thing to a traditional club track, “Second Home”, comes with so much granular polish on its churning engine that one could be forgiven for focusing on the machinery rather than the journey.
While this attention to detail makes for great chin-stroking fodder, a more skeptical reader could be forgiven for worrying that this would come at the cost of immediacy, or worse, heart. For my money, it’s the vocals, split between Ni-Arb and Estefania (the latter of whom takes a more prominent position than ever before) which offer a core thread throughout, allowing the listener to indulge in The House Of Rain‘s more exotic sound design without ever losing focus on its human element. On “Go Down” the vocal character Sev-ren strikes is an odd mix, with a vulnerable lyricism which feels perfectly in keeping with that darkwave vibe I alluded to earlier, but also strikes upon the futurepop template he was working with years before the likes of Stephan Groth. Estefania cagily switches between a gloomily observational feel on “Drowned Words” and a far homier and earthier tone on the almost whimsical “Frozen Light”.
Although its second half lands on the bouncier side of things, The House Of Rain still feels like the furthest thing from “classic” Pedwalk material the band’s ever released. Connections could likely be traced back to Drawback, the band’s last record before the hiatus, but the florid, borderline gothic mood laid overtop of those more minimal tracks lends The House Of Rain a good deal of distance from the band’s original sound. More than any other post-millennial Pedwalk release, though, that distance is also what allows it to gel as an album.