Los Angeles duo Male Tears are an interesting quantity in the current goth music landscape; on the one black nail-polished hand their electropop and darkwave stylings slot in nicely with the current wave of bands exploring that particular intersection in scene agnostic fashion, while on the other their aesthetics and presentation place them squarely in the grand goth tradition. Those distinctions and dichotomies are salient to James Edward and Frank Shark’s new LP KRYPT, a record that drinks deeply from its influences (as outlined by Edward in his recent chat with us) while reconstituting them in intriguing fashion.
While it’s certainly not hard to find points of comparison in listening to the record, there’s a pleasing unity and continuity from track to track, regardless of whether the band are going for mean and minimal club sounds or smooth synthpop. Given the more-is-more way the band present themselves visually, they keep things lean in their arrangements and DIY production, letting vocals and hooks do the heavy lifting in differentiating the songs from one another. While there’s not a ton of objective difference between electronic the bass and drums that serve as the foundation for tracks like “SLEEP 4EVER” or “I EXPIRE”, the two songs read quite distinct in practice; the latter shaped into a longing slice of club-ready electropop via its twinkling minor key melody and crooned vocals from Edward, the former a proper club stomper that’s almost entirely based around a single repeating synthline, panned snare hits and processed sneers. Male Tears are canny enough to figure out how to make sounds serve songs rather than the opposite, working simple bleeps into the low-key menace of the hissing “NEVER AGAIN” and layering a fragile pad over the upbeat disco of “SLAY” to lend it some high-drama.
It’s in the vocals and the subject matter that the band’s goth-lifer credentials are most apparent, and most crucial to their musical identity. Those steeped in classic scene drama will recognize the classic scene-king/user described in “DEAL3R” before ever hearing a single sardonic word, just as the sombre monotone of “Jaded” communicates the weariness of dealing with the same. Edward tries a lot of deliveries out and does well by them for the most part – despite some uncertainty on the opening title track where his gentle intonation is a little off from the melody of the frail-edged synth leads, he dials it in for “SLEEP 4EVER” immediately, and flips it into a more commanding presence on “DOMIN8”.
The paradoxical appeal of KRYPT is that for all the different traditions, ideas and styles it draws from, it’s a record possessed of a singular personality. That charm serves Male Tears well, as any shortcomings that may come through on close examination – a slightly muddy mix here, an off-note there – only add to its identity. To wit, Male Tears are so completely and uniquely themselves that not only to do you not need to pull at the various threads the album ties into its sometimes angsty, sometimes acerbic whole to get it, you won’t feel the need to. Recommended.