Wednesday, February 3, 2010

The Horrors - Primary Colours

You know, I vaguely recall seeing a promo picture of these guys a couple of years ago. It was in Rolling Stone or Spin or something like that. At the time I was nonplussed: besides the unctiously fawning press release - which was obviously aimed at teenage girls - the dudes looked like ridiculous, wannabe goths in the accompanying photo. Like they were advertising for Hot Topic or something.

I can’t speak for what they sounded like back then, because I had already dismissed them as a contrived marketing gimmick or at best a cheap rip-off of The Cramps. From what I understand though, they’ve altered their sound considerably for this sophomore effort; bringing in big time production help from Portishead’s Geoff Barrow and Chris Cunningham.

The result is kind of like b-movie meets garage rock – a weird hybrid of gothic surfiness and blood-shot paranoia, where warbled synthesizers and entropic distortion collide with the stark and hollow coldness of vocalist Faris Badwan, who has definitely listened to more than his share of Joy Division. Though he sounds like Ian Curtis more often than not, Badwan does a cockney-ish punk thing pretty well too on songs like Mirror Image and Three Decades.

The use of synthesizers (tonally and in the manner they’re employed) is one of the more distinguishing aspects of Primary Colors. Swathes of them warp and refract into distended melodies adding to an already disorienting amalgam of reverb-drenched guitars, Phantom-of-the-Opera organs and grinding amplified feedback.

On Three Decades synths screech like twisting steel and surf guitars are bent and stretched to the point of creating an unsettling Doppler-like effect.

Who Can Say, probably the most pop-friendly tune, is a love song undercut by dirty, serrated guitars and giddy synthesizers saturated with reverb until they create a kind of hall-of-mirrors-like sound a la My Bloody Valentine.

The lyrics, when decipherable, are predictably morose, but what else could you really expect a band calling themselves The Horrors.

Not everything is so over the top though. The sprawling 8-minute, synthetic odyssey, Sea Within a Sea is melancholic and almost Depeche Mode-eqsue. My favorite of the lot, it's a lovely way to send things off after all the carnage.

I reckon you could pick apart the obvious influences: Joy Division, The Smiths, New Order, Echo and the Bunnymen, My Bloody Valentine, etc., etc.; wax condescendingly about how they’re just the sum of these various reference points. You could ridicule the blatant Halloween/b-movie shtick. You might label the approach pretentious or heavy-handed.

None of this, in my opinion, changes the fact that it's a flawlessly executed hybrid of dark garage rock, gothic punk and psychedelic noise.

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