Spectres - Presence

Artoffact Records

The aesthetic changes made by Vancouver’s Spectres have been slow and incremental, and likely less immediately noticeable to hometown listeners like ourselves who’ve been seeing the pastel shades of reflective new wave added in increments to the band’s initially deathrock tinted style of post-punk, one show at a time. That transformation, which perhaps begin with 2016’s Utopia, now feels fully realized on their fifth LP Presence. But regardless of how closely the listener has or hasn’t been tracking that change, Presence feels like the brighter, melodic version of the band fully coming into their own identity.

Spotting the direct New Order parallels that started with several tracks on 2020’s Nostalgia (or even comparing the band’s overall shift to that made by Blitz) has been easy enough over recent years. With Presence it feels like the wistful yet sun-soaked moods Spectres have been basking in have simmered and settled to an even keel, with the band’s unchanging strengths now standing on their own in this new incarnation. Sure, you could take a microscope to individual tracks like “Justice And The Cross” and “One Day” and try to identify strands of DNA from The Wake or Comsat Angels (“Homeless Club Kids”, by turn of the millennium indie darlings My Favorite is knowingly quoted on “Real World”), but that’s not what shines through on multiple listens or after the record’s finished; the clarion choruses, subtle hooks, and Brian Gustavson’s vocal charisma do.

More than its precursors, Presence finds a balance between those strengths and the band’s poppier ambitions. The triumph and melancholy which flow in equal parts through “Falling Down” are the result of years of the band field testing their interests, but comes across effortlessly, as does the rhythmic flurry which drives “Dominion” but leaves enough space in the mix for ameliorating bass and vocal harmonies. Even more ambitious is the rhapsody of closing track “Start Again”, which begins with the sort of cold and bracing post-punk which first drew us to Spectres but shifts into a half-time elegy which owes more to doo-wop than any punk act.

There are exceptions to this motif – the minor key but still anthemic street punkof “Chain Reaction” feels like a conscious callback to “Remote Viewing” from Nothing To Nowhere, their now twelve year old sophomore LP – but on the whole Presence feels like a statement of arrival. That’s maybe an odd thing to say about a band of their tenure, and certainly Utopia felt like the culmination of the band’s sound at the time. But they haven’t stayed pat since then, and their drive to explore more melodic and plaintive sounds has brought them here, to a new vista they’ve discovered of their own accord. Recommended.

Buy it.