The voice of Athan Maroulis will always be linked to the seminal Los Angeles based trio Spahn Ranch, a band that pounded the ’90s Industrial scene with a daring mix of electro-flavored Synth Pop fused with a menacing pall of atmospheric Goth. To this day, a number of Spahn Ranch songs like “Vortex” and “Heretic’s Fork” still pack dark dance floors around the globe.
While on hiatus from Black Tape, Athan conceptualized NOIR as a project where his Industrial and Gothic past would walk the wire between retro and futuristic sounds, brought into a moody electronic present by synth-laced hooks meshed with elements of dance, dark ambient and touches of glitch-induced EBM. The result is Darkly Near, an album influenced by an idealized black-and-white perception of New York City, where yesteryear’s views of to-morrow are pressed against the machinery of today.
Lyrically, Darkly Near is an album of endings, a montage that travels through a dreamy death trip of sensuality littered with faded film stars, Rod Serling scripts, Weegee snap-shots, con artists, replicants, and the layered recollections of a solitary man waiting for a train. Released on the heels of 2012’s successful digital single “My Dear” (that featured an exclusive Assemblage 23 remix), NOIR’s mature yet strikingly re-freshing Darkly Near album will be supported by a select string of exclusive live dates.
I hate to even call this simply an electro- pop album. It’s anything but. It’s a mixture of rich experimental global rhythms that not only bring to mind modern electronic rhythms, but also contain doses of 80’s sounds typical of OMD, Re-Flex and Tears For Fears; you hear the music, try to pinpoint where you’ve heard something like this before, but just can’t. This is the kind of admirable musical artistry that a lot of new groups lack today. Athan Maroulis’ NOIR is not calculated or contrived in any of its tracks; he seems to go with his gut instinct which works every time.
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This is a very deep excursion into popular electronic music. What I like about Darkly Near is that it is not self-conscious or melodramatic like EBM usually is. Each song has at least one great riff backed up by solid rhythms and arrangements. “The Bells”, “The Grifter” and “When The Rain Came” are particularly captivating.
The lyrics reflect the mixed feeling of personal consciousness abandoned in a social context of spiritual discomfort. Though very danceable, the music is also for personal consumption and does not seem to be really that phased by the social issues it talks to. Hence, the sound is very clean and any forlorn aspects are overcompensated by greater energies supplied by Athan Maroulis.
While similar sounding albums by other groups who have also rediscovered this retro-electro sound, have their moments, and are very enjoyable, Darkly Near maintains a high level of excellence throughout, and its tone and sound is remarkably consistent. Every song flows beautifully into the next, with a rich polyglot of world rhythms, sounds, textures, background vocals, and memorable melodies.
This is a must have for any music collecting aficionado with an eclectic taste and a streak of nostalgia in them!
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