Harsh Symmetry
Display Model
Fabrika Records

While the digital liners for the debut album by Julian Sharwarko as Harsh Symmetry point to connections with darkwave from the likes of genre progenitors like This Mortal Coil and Clan of Xymox and standout cult acts like The Frozen Autumn, there’s a healthy amount of the modern in the DNA of Display Model. Like a lot of acts plying the melodic, guitar-inflected sound in recent years Shawarko keeeps his electronics minimal but propulsive, which allows his vocals and hooks to breathe without sacrificing dancefloor appeal.

Comparisons to Twin Tribes and She Past Away (whose Doruk Öztürkcan provided the LP’s mix and master) are apt, although Shawarko displays some very distinct production and arrangement traits that set Harsh Symmetry apart. Firstly, the highly saturated atmosphere of the tracks lends them a dreamy, timeless feel that corresponds well with the melancholic vocals, which are delivered in a controlled but still emotionally resonant fashion. It’s what makes a track like “Opiate” or single “Mirror Twin” work so well; beyond the kicks and synth-bass there’s a real tangibility to the atmosphere of the tracks that is subtle enough to keep from overpowering the vocals and chimey guitars, but also lends the songs weight and texture beyond their component elements.

Shawarko’s other trick is in taking the distinctive electro-darkwave markers of Boy Harsher and their imitators and using them as underpinning. The effect is striking in part because we’ve heard such blatant copy-catting of the sound in the last few years that hearing it twisted to serve an altogether different style of song ends up being refreshing in and of itself. You’d be forgiven for hearing the 16th note bass synth and gated snare at the opening of “Severance” and jumping to the conclusion that it’s another of the torrent of songs working that style to diminishing returns, but the onset of crystalline guitar strumming and Shawarko’s wounded and mournful vocal take it to an entirely different place. Similarly, the funky intro to “Nowhere” belies its wistfulness, much as the snappy drum programming and synth triplets of “Pugilist” allow for some tricky shifts up and down in mood over its scant 2:11 runtime.

At less than a half an hour and 8 tracks, there’s a lot of substance packed into Display Model. Economy of songwriting and construction, mixed with richness of texture and melody is a potent approach, and Harsh Symmetry squeezes everything they can out of it on the LP. There’s little left on the table, here as Julian Sharwarko plies his trade in pleasingly uncomplicated, if still vibrant fashion.

Buy it.