Portland’s Puerta Negra arrived effectively fully formed on 2022’s Costo Humano, and the four tracks on new EP Playa Sola pick up exactly where it left off. Deft and colourful, Maria Aguirre and Mark Arciaga’s take on modern mutant EBM gets a bit of a polish thanks to the golden touch of Matia Simovich behind the boards, but the EP’s carried by its swiftly shifting plateaus of programming and rhythm, as well as Aguirre’s vocal charisma. With plenty of variety in sound design, even across a mere thirteen minutes, but still holding to the stripped down arrangements which this style necessitates, Playa Sola measures up well pound for pound. “Control” underscores the line between classic NYC electro and EBM with its stuttering kicks and synth toms, while “No Olvidado” carries a hint of early Kas Product in the gloomy synth pads which hover behind the minimal basswork. Direct, mean, but multifacted stuff from the pair once again.
A Proper Ending
Those tracking Quebecois synthpop act Menthüll since they first came to our attention in 2021 since their emergence in 2020 will have noted the Hull-based duo’s shift from dreamier and often bright sounds towards more pensive and smokey ones. It’s a natural fit for the project, whose frequent releases of singles and EPs – 15 in the last three years – have established a continental and melancholic style that borders on minimal and post-punk. A Proper Ending is the purest expression of that vision thus far, leaning into male and female vocals sung in both French and English and more ominous choices in production and sound design. A cut like “Sorrow” with its wiry electric bass and dramatic pads recall the simmering menace of European acts like Rue Oberkampf and Paradox Obscur. It’s a feeling that persists even when Menthüll orient themselves towards the dancefloor; “Dance Cabaret” and “And We Die” let that uneasiness and anxiety show through, the former via a juxtaposition of the disco as getaway and trap in one, and the latter through it’s dance unto death refrain resigned or celebratory depending on your perspective. That last feeling may be the best way to think of the project’s evolution – as the layers of vocals on the beatless electropop of closing track “So Long” rise up, Menthüll find continue to find sparks of joy in the shadows.