Luis Vasquez seems like a guy with a lot of torment. He seems like a guy with a lot of existential turmoil to unpack. His work as The Soft Moon is a discography of pain, anger, and dark thoughts wrapped in a tattered post-punk bow. The music is always based in rhythm and percussive sway, followed by industrial-grade Goth. Tribal, echoed rhythms backing flanged bass lines and nightmare melodies that would sound at home in some underground S&M club in gritty nightlife Berlin in the late 70s/early 80s. The first two records were nearly instrumental affairs with Vasquez’ voice occasionally peaking out from behind the shadows, heavily effected. But on 2015s excellent Deeper The Soft Moon emerged as more of a singer-songwriter project than it ever had before. Vasquez seemed to be trying to exorcise some ancient demons that he’d been carrying his whole life.
Now, The Soft Moon return with a new album called Criminal on Sacred Bones Records(the first for the New York label, with his previous albums released by Captured Tracks.) Criminal continues Vasquez’ exorcising of past demons. The album is dark, heavy, uninhibited, and recalls Trent Reznor’s most jagged and personal watershedding in NIN, as well as Robert Smith’s antagonizing of death and despair on albums like Faith and Pornography. Criminal is The Soft Moon’s heaviest and most earnest album yet.
When asked about his new album, Luis Vasquez said this, “Guilt is my biggest demon and has been following me since childhood. Everything I do strengthens the narrative that I am guilty” Vasquez reflects. “The concept of ‘Criminal’ is a desperate attempt to find relief by both confessing to my wrongdoings and by blaming others for their wrongdoings that have affected me.” With guilt as a jumping off point, “Burn” opens The Soft Moon’s new album with a healthy dose of industrial techno and self-hatred as Vasquez repeats the line “I can’t control myself” over and over again until he leads us into a soaring chorus(well, at least soaring for The Soft Moon.) The song is built with precision and steely perfection, building into a Wax Trax-like jubilation. “Choke” is slow and menacing. Vasquez covers his vocals in effects, like someone wearing a mask to cover their shame. Here, this might be more for show; The Soft Moon’s own morality play covered in Latin rhythms, nightlife hedonism, and electronic provocation. “Give Something” wavers in the air like a thick smoke. It brings to mind early Cure and darker Depeche Mode. “I don’t wanna lose my mind/that’s why I keep you so close” Vasquez sings over prickly synth lines and a melancholy bass line.
Elsewhere, “Like A Father” is an all-out techno fever dream. “Something’s got to give” and “You’re the ghost of my problem” are sung by a disjointed voice over a dance floor-ready club beat. “It Kills” brings to mind The Soft Moon’s fever dream of an album Zeros with its mix of mournful longing and syncopated desperation. “ILL” captures the claustrophobic doom of Aphex Twin while peppering the proceedings with Afro-Cuban rhythmic flair. Vasquez is a master builder of electronic walls of sound, as this track proves heartily. “Born Into This” is pushed along with industrial heft as machine gun blasts of percussion push the track into Suicide territory. “Criminal” pulls you into a cycle of regret and need for forgiveness.
There isn’t anybody making confessional music like The Soft Moon. Vasquez makes musical art that is immediate and all-encompassing. He creates a multi-emotional experience every time he puts out an album. A Soft Moon record wants to engage all the senses. You not only hear The Soft Moon’s music, but you can feel it. It’s a textural experience. Criminal is an album that wades in guilt; both deserved and self-inflicted. Whether or not Luis Vasquez finds some kind of closure remains to be seen. Regardless, it’s an engaging and visceral experience.