Costa Rica’s TVMVLVS TABIDVS certainly don’t lack for a conceit which sets them apart. The trio’s moniker denotes a rotting burial mound and they’ve opted to sing (and spell) wholly in Latin, all the better for songs dealing with “humanity’s stupidity, the vulgarity of people…[and] the cyclicity of life.” Provocative enough stuff, certainly, but the band have a good sense for the sorts of sounds and compositions which might fit such an audacious set-up. Sex draws post-punk, darkwave, and minimal wave into a murky, uneasy concord which often makes a virtue of its grimy, lo-fi execution.
Much of Sex is built on dead simple drum machines left to handle rhythmic duties themselves. Guitars and bass trace out tentative cobwebbed scales and melodies before kicking into nodding grinds which aren’t too far away from classic deathrock. All of these sounds are kept in a blurry fugue state, occasionally bound together with some minimal keyboards (as on the tightly wound “DO VT DES”), often wandering off down distant moldering corridors. Throughout all of this, though, it’s the sharp and careening voice of María del Mar Castro which holds the focus more often than not. Though generally only shifting between a handful of shrieked notes – and processed to sound as though they’re being yelled through a megaphone from the very depths of the band’s eponymous tomb – del Mar Castro’s vocals perfectly cinch both the band’s ancient ethos and the clear ties their sound has to the turn-of-the-millennium nexus of post-hardcore and gothy experimentation: Kill Me Tomorrow, Love Live, and The Vanishing all come to mind.
The contrast between the all-caps obscurantism of the band’s name (not to mention singing-in-a-dead-language) and the pedestrian bluntness of the record’s title threw me for a bit of a loop. I’ll admit that very little about the record felt sexy apart from the simple pulsing beats of a few tracks. While the PR copy helpfully notes that the word also means “six” in Latin, the skeleton popping bottles in preparation for some Dionysian revelry on the cover points towards Eros in opposition to the record’s gloomy Thanatos death drive. That feels as good a metaphor as any for the balance TVMVLVS TABIDVS strike here: despite a dour sound, the delivery of the material has a zealful energy which the crypt can’t contain.