Soft Vein
Pressed in Glass
Artoffact Records

Existing almost as a flipside of the current melodic darkwave and post-punk movement, there’s been a slowly swelling number of acts exploring the colder, more somber end of those genres. The first LP from California’s Soft Vein is certainly an example of the latter; while the one-man project helmed by Justin Chamberlain has some hooks and speedy club-friendly programming, the overall mood of PRESSED IN GLASS is despondent. That dolefulness serves the record well in places, while also masking its charms in others.

Positively, Chamberlain seems to have a grasp of how to spike the record’s brooding and isolated character with enough pep to keep it from becoming a complete downer. Where minor key tracks like “LEASH” and “VIOLENTIA” are wreathed in massive amounts of inky reverb that cast long shadows over the song’s synths and Chamberlain’s monotone vocals to the point of obscuring them, there’s a solid backbeat provided by meat-and-potatoes synth bass and drum programming to maintain pace. He’s also got a solid knack for positioning instrumentation in the right spots to keep tedium from setting in; see the cutting guitar that cuts a path through the rhythm of “PERFECT TEETH”, a chaotic counterpoint to the woozy synths that feels like they’re trying to skip past industrialized to entirely dehumanized.

That said, there are moments where the record’s tendency for bleakness works against it. While there’s a certain appeal to taking what otherwise might be slightly gloomy but otherwise quite pleasant tune like “EMPTY ROOMS” and draping it in funereal garb, the resulting indistinctness of its slightly detuned mix and big waves of reverb keeps its actually quite sticky melody from taking hold. Closer “COLDER” suffers from the same issue: what could have been a cathartic resolution to the roughly 30 minutes of despondency that proceeded it has its glimmers of hope squashed by the weight of the production, leaving the record feel unresolved. Which is not to suggest that it’s Justin Chamberlain’s job to make us feel better after exposing us to some pretty potent misery, but that monotony is a danger he comes close to succumbing to a few times too often.

Still, the excellent “BLOODLETTING” and single “GIVEUPTHEGHOST” give us little tastes of catharsis – the latter from its escalating push against the weight of its ennui, the latter by allowing a glimpse of warmth and brightness through in its chord progression – enough to understand that PRESSED IN GLASS isn’t as one-note as a casual survey of its contents might suggest. Soft Vein clearly knows that a little light, even if it only serves to provide dimensionality to the darkness isn’t a bad thing.

Buy it.