Prayers - “Gothic Summer” (2014)

IMG_1338A few months back I wrote about the cholo goth stylings of San Diego’s Prayers, a group we came across via an appearance they made on Eddie Huang’s TV show “Huang’s World”.  I picked up a couple of their albums from my buddy Mark at FeeLit Records, including the previously reviewed vinyl of 2013’s SD Killwave and their subsequent five-song CD Gothic Summer.

After three months of listening to Prayers, one thing is clear:  I’m addicted to Gothic Summer.  In fact, “Blood on the Blade” is the very best new-to-me song I’ve heard in 2016 so far.

Dave Parley does more with simple and basic beats than just about anyone out there today, layering them with dark keyboards to build the perfect framework for Rafael Reyes to build his lyrics around.  And man, what great lyrics.

Do you know who I am?
Do you know who I am?
Do you know who I am?
I am your brother.
I am your lover.
I am,
The dragon.
I am,
The truth.
I am,
The serpent.
I am,
Perfection.
I was,
Created,
In His image,
In His image,
I was,
Created.
— “Blood on the Blade”

With songs about loss and betrayal, served with an undercurrent of the potential for violence, Prayers have taken darkwave in a different direction, one that is more street than dance club.  Their style shares some of the loneliness, alienation, and self-loathing of the goth scene (I don’t need your guilt trips / I’m my own worst enemy - “Only Death Can Set Me Free”), but infuses it with a desperate confidence at times bordering on arrogance - things you need to survive in an environment with strong ties to gang culture.  There’s some resemblance to hip hop, though this is mostly topical as the vocal delivery is primary sung, not rapped.

God and the devil are both on Gothic Summer, with Reyes and Parley balancing between the forces of good and evil and making you question how much of a gap there truly is between the two.  Maybe they’re not as different as we all think they are.  As Reyes sings, Only death can set me free from my sorrows.

Prayers and Gothic Summer will definitely be making be making appearances on my year-end lists.

Prayers - “SD Killwave” (2013)

Holly and I are all about the VICELAND channel right now.  Whether it’s “Noisey” or “States of Undress” or “F*ck, That’s Delicious” or “King of the Road” we can’t get enough.  It’s the only channel that has shows that we’ll actually adjust our schedules for to ensure we can catch new episodes.  One of the best shows they have going right now is “Huang’s World,” a food/travel show featuring Eddie Huang.  Yeah yeah, another food/travel show, whooptie-do.  Eddie brings something new and youthful to the tired genre, though (as does Action Bronson on “F*ck, That’s Delicious”), getting down to the true roots and cultural levels in a way that is refreshing.

The other day we caught the “Borderlands” episode, which takes place on both sides of the border between the US and Mexico, and Eddie got invited to an outdoor family cookout in a Hispanic part of San Diego.  Playing a set in that backyard was a two-man band called Prayers, and they blew our minds apart with their self-described “cholo goth” style.  So much so that at the next commercial I walked down the hall, got online, and shot an email over to my man Mark who owns/operates FeeLit Records in San Diego and asked him to send me whatever he had on these guys, which turned out to be the vinyl re-issue (on purple wax) of their debut LP, 2013s SD Killwave, along with their 2014 five-song CD Gothic Summer(♠)  The package arrived while I was on a business trip, so Holly opened up the CD and texted me the next morning that I was going to absolutely love Prayers.  And she was right.  I’ve been playing Gothic Summer, along with the download we purchased of 2015s Young Gods, in a nearly continuous loop for about a week now.  And today I finally had the time to sit down and give the vinyl of SD Killwave a spin.

Mind.  Blown.

I could give you some background on these guys, but others have already done a much better job than I possibly could so I recommend you just go check out the eight minute video about them put out by VICE/Noisey located HERE.  It’s OK, go watch it then come back.  I’ll wait.

While frontman Rafael Reyes gets most of the attention for his haunting, beseeching, plaintive vocal style, don’t overlook the beats and synths of Dave Parley.  Parley keeps it relatively simple, but with a heavy dark undercurrent and a some occasional flourishes that keep the music from sounding too “canned”.  Reyes’ voice and words are what truly separate Prayers from the pack, though, giving the music it’s cholo element with treatises about about loneliness and violence and gang life.  Will something like cholo goth capture and take mainstream the inner city Hispanic experience the way hip hop did for African American communities?  I don’t know, but it would be amazing if it did.

Oddly the second thing that crossed my mind after experiencing Prayers for the first time on “Huang’s World” (after “I need to go buy some of this immediately”) was that it made me think of a story Chuck Klosterman originally wrote for SPIN that I read in his book Chuck Klosterman IV about the large and incredibly passionate fan-base the Smiths and Morrissey have in the Hispanic community, something that surprised him when he attended a Smiths convention in Los Angeles.  Klosterman wrote about these super hard looking guys who just poured out love for Morrissey and freely admitted how deeply his music touched them, a seemingly incongruous collision of culture and style.  In some ways that reminded me of Prayers, even more so after watching the Noisey profile video and hearing Reyes talk about the challenges he faced trying to be the person he wants to be.

I could break down SD Killwave song-by-song, but honestly I don’t want to.  I want to experience it as a whole, like one continuous trip into the mind of another person.  The one song that is more of an outlier, though an excellent one, is Prayers’ cover of “West End Girls” that appears on Young Gods, but while that’s probably a familiar song to most of you and it would feel like an obvious place to start, resist the urge.  Listen to some of their original material, because that’s where the power is.  If I have to point you to something specific from SD Killwave, I’d say do the bookend technique and listen to both the first (“Ready to Bleed”) and last (“Lazers on My Neck”) tracks and give those a try.

 

(♠) Record store owners, when you’re cool to your customers, you may find that out-of-towners like me who meet you will later order stuff from you!  And customers, if you’re cool to the people who own indie record stores, sometimes they’ll become great sources for awesome local music that you can’t find elsewhere!

Aska - “Grátónar” (2015)

How is it possible that I still have records that I bought at Airwaves in early November on my “To Listen To” shelf?  Hell, I still have one from Paris there too, and we were there before Iceland.  <sigh>  That’s the life of the vinyl junkie.  The struggle is real.

Tonight we’re spinning another relatively new release from Iceland, Aska’s Grátónar.  OK, truth be told it’s almost a year old.  I’m sorry.  There’s only so much time in the day and so many kronur in my bank account.  We’ve actually listened to this already, but it went back onto the shelf because I wanted to post a little somethin’ somethin’ about it, and tonight felt right, so back onto the turntable it went.

Grátónar is electro-darkwave, with very simple late 1970s style synths (a limited number of notes, all held for prolonged periods) and vocals that sound like their coming from inside your empty stomach, echoing inside your skull in a sort of slurred, haunting way.  This record is a goddamn trip, I’ll tell you that.  I won’t lie, I had to double check the speed against the Aska Bandcamp page (HERE) just to make sure I hadn’t drunk too much Nyquil or something (in fact, I had not).  It’s dark and slow and sludgy and weirdly heavy in a sort of high pitched synthy kind of way, perfect for drinking in the dark, your face lit by just a laptop monitor.

One more Icelandic record, and another from Paris, are all that remain from the trip (excluding, of course, some CDs…).  But have no fear my loyal readers… I already have more records waiting in the wings…

Dulvitund - “Lífsins Þungu Spor” (2015)

Hi, yeah, darkwave music just called.  It said it wants to get way, way darker.  Oh yeah, and it changed it’s name to Dulvitund.  I wouldn’t argue with it.  It sounded pretty damn serious.

Dulvitund is a one-man musical representation of the dark arts.  It is the thing that goes bump in the night.  It is the countless doubts that fill your head day after day.  It’s the fear of the unknown, but also, just as importantly, the fear of the known.  “The human condition and crippling depression is the main theme, along with the cold hard reality that we all face,” according to its Facebook page.

The vinyl slab that is Lífsins Þungu Spor is, fittingly, black.  Black like the depths of despair from which the music rises and bursts forth, like a black amorphophallus titanum, blooming once a decade to infect the world with its smell.

It’s the most poignant and effective dark music I’ve ever heard.

The music is darkly beautiful, at times stark, at others scrapping into industrial territory.  But it is the vocalizations (it wouldn’t be right to call it “singing” any more than to say that someone screaming in torment is singing) that will send an icy shiver down your soul, that will make you question your humanity, that will make you reach for the volume knob… why?… to turn it down… or… to turn it up…?  The sounds will cover you like a heavy blanket, but without the warmth, just the weight, and without keeping the cold out.

If you’ve ever been into an old church, or better yet an old cathedral, you know the sensation.  The eerie stillness.  That odd damp quality that exists even during the hottest day in the midst of the driest summer.  The musty smell.  The sheer weight of it all.  And how absolutely creepy an organ can sound in that space if it wants to.  That is the sound of Lífsins Þungu Spor.  The music has a visceral quality.  It feels like something… other.  Something of this world, but outside of the normal experience.  The current of a jet black river that runs underneath the so-called real world, a world that isn’t real at all.  The siren song of Cthulhu that beckons you to wade into to the waters, knowing full well what awaits you there.  The piercing cold of the water that takes your breath away.  The feeling of the tentacles tightening around your ankles before it all goes dark…

You can listen to this album in its entirety for free HERE.  That is, if you’re willing to risk your soul.  And you can buy the vinyl there too - it’s a limited edition of 200 hand-numbered copies, so it’ll be gone fast.  I can’t recommend Lífsins Þungu Spor to you enough - you NEED this album.