Black Nail Cabaret
Harry Me Marry Me Bury Me Bite Me
Basic Unit Productions/Negative Gain Productions

We were first made aware of Hungarian synth outfit Black Nail cabaret when vocalist Emese Arvai-Illes lent her remarkable voice to Architect’s modern classic Mine. In the time since that record’s release Emese and producer/programmer Zsofia Tarr have recorded and released the follow-up to their 2012 debut Emerald City, building on that record’s tasteful use of electronics and tongue in cheek drama to unique effect. Harry Me Marry Me Bury Me Bite Me is a clever record that makes the very most of the various tools Black Nail Cabaret have at their disposal, most especially Arvai-Illes’ remarkable voice which is never far from the centre of each song.

Without wanting to take anything away from BNC’s grasp on arrangement and studiocraft, it’s really Emese’s voice that separates the group from any other number of other electronic artists in the dark synth spectrum. Her versatile androgynous croon functions in whatever context they apply it to, hitting the exactly right playful mood on twinkling opener “Hair” before switching up to a more reserved and emotive stance on the bouncy electropop number “Blonde”. That she can so readily then shift gears to accompany the terse and mechanical percussion of “The Critical Cult of Dora” is genuinely remarkable: her confidence in every scenario shines through with unmistakable virtuosity. How many vocalists can pull off malleable and emotional and totally unique in the same breath?

The genre-agnostic descriptor Black Nail Cabaret have adopted is synth noir, which serves as handy shorthand for the mood on Harry Me Marry Me if nothing else. In practice what they make is a sort of continental electropop with a darker assortment of sounds, not far off in timbre from the grayscale palette favoured by their various labelmates on Basic Unit Productions in spirit if not form. The album generally sticks with a mid-tempo pace and less-is-more style of arrangements, instrumentally transparent when your focus is on the vocals up front. Numbers like “Satisfaction” and “Dance For You” have lots of fun sequences and interesting use of pads and negative space, excellent conveyances for the larger drama Emes is conjuring on their choruses. Occasionally the duo even hits on a mid-period Depeche Mode style lope as on “Down Again”, but by and large the instrumental pleasures here are subtle if not a bit understated.

Harry Me Marry Me Bury Me Bite Me is a really pleasant listen, although it could occasionally stand to let it hang out a bit more than it does. I suppose it makes sense that they’d go the reserved and classy route seeing as it comes to them so naturally, but their occasional moments of torchy camp (like the slinky buzzing “Change Me”) are so striking it’d be interesting to hear them pursue them further. Still, it’s hard to find any fault with Black Nail Cabaret’s approach here. An excellent soundtrack for the transition from cool spring to warm summer and all the changes in listening that implies. Fine stuff.

Buy it.