Jean Lorenzo’s Silent EM is an NYC based darkwave act, albeit one that cleaves to the aggressive, electronic end of that genre’s spectrum. Indeed, Lorenzo’s background in punk and post-punk bands isn’t hard to divine from the the music on his debut LP The Absence, a suite of dancefloor ready songs that emphasize wiry programming and snappy, hard hitting drums. The leanness of the production and recording (provided by 2019 studio MVP Matia Simovich of Inhalt) conveys equal parts disaffection and cynical antipathy: a potent cocktail of sentiments to fuel the proceedings.
Silent EM is at their best when they go for the throat. “Don’t Crash So Fast” introduces its repeating synth figure at the jump, quickly layering on muscly drums and a straightforward bassline while Lorenzo delivers the song’s title as chorus with sneering nihilism. The track’s minimalism recollects elements of European coldwave, as filtered through the grit and economy of synthpunk. Album highlights “Last Rites” and “Wraith” tap into the same speed and dourness to excellent effect, especially on the latter where plaintive synths descend over the track like sheets of freezing rain. Silent EM’s songs are universally pretty somber, but skip past mopey to a kind of grim defiance. It’s a posture that suits the project well.
Silent EM do stretch their wings in terms of songwriting and arrangement to varying effects over the course of The Absence. The most interesting variations come hand in hand with the album’s overall pace and temperament: “No Rest” makes good use of pads and blasts of warbling synth noise over high velocity drums and Lorenzo’s most energetic vocal performance, and closing track “No God’s Land” adds in a fairly complex layer of synth strings that serve up potency and finality. Less notable is the album’s longest track “Virtues of Our Age”, a fine enough song out of context but one that feels dampened by breakdowns and atmospherics as compared to the numbers that surround it. Similarly “Return of Yesterday” is a sober enough slice of modern darkwave which suffers mostly by being nestled between the record’s more vital entries.
The Absence has an effective meanness and alacrity in delivery and attitude, and with a runtime of a bit more than half an hour it finishes up before those traits become cloying or tiresome. As a debut it does exactly what it should, establishing an identity for Silent EM and suggesting myriad ways that musical persona might develop going forward. Fans of gaunt, baleful synth music take notice.