It’s not hard to situate Los Angeles’ Harsh Symmetry in the current dark music ecosphere; the music on debut LP Display Model planted Julian Sharwarko firmly in the school of modern darkwave bands that use the style’s classic template as a launchpad for their own melody driven songs. What distinguishes the project’s work both on that LP and their 2023 release “Imitation” is the careful consideration and minimalism of Harsh Symmetry’s material – songs are reserved without being overly polite, and performed with a quiet confidence that speaks to their deliberate nature.
That’s not to suggest that the LP is sleepy or lacking in energy. Indeed, the drum machine backbeat that pushes most of the record forward is a key to its success, providing momentum and structure for its arrangements. There’s a sturdiness to the pulsing bass synth and snappy drum programming that propels “Makeup Artist”, a foundation for Shawarko’s ringing guitar lines and crooned vocals. And while more than a few cuts play out similarly, the LP throws some pleasing and occasionally surprising changeups into the mix; lead single “Glass Tears” has a round and funky synth bassline that puts the bounce behind its choppy riffs, and “Dressed in White” leverages uses a classic synthpop sounds to add melodic heft.
As the title of the record wryly suggests, there’s a plenty of foundational acts Imitation will remind you of, with The Cure, And Also the Trees, The Sound, and even Gene Loves Jezebel coming to mind during successive listens. But like the best of their contemporaries, Harsh Symmetry’s songwriting is strong enough to push past any accusation of rote mimicry. While Sharwarko doesn’t write big anthemic hooks, he does squeeze as much as he can out of his melodies and harmonies; “Scalpel” gets a lot out of the interaction between vocals, guitars and synths, each kept in careful balance with one another being a key example. That allows for tracks to be kept lean in the mix without sacrificing body: there’s no lack of weight to “Crystal Smile” or the cover of Madonna’s “Open Your Heart” in spite of their relative sparseness.
A year is a really short interval between first and second albums, but the gains Harsh Symmetry has made in that time are clear. As strange as it is to say about an act with such slender and often wispy aesthetics, Imitation is a beefier and more substantial record than its predecessor, one that puts plenty of vigor behind its meticulously constructed and performed material. Recommended.