Pinkish Black by no means traffic in ugliness alone. From the tendrils of filter fog on the lambent synth chord that opens “Bodies in Tow,” to singer and keyboardist Daron Beck’s haunted-house Gospel melodies on closer “Against the Door,” the Denton, Texas-based duo’s first album is to beauty as a giant squid is to water. All the death and dissolution—and there’s plenty—render the final product’s voluptuousness all the more poignant.
Being Pinkish Black’s least personal song makes the aforementioned opener a great, two-part introduction. The first half—electronic doom metal dominated by Beck’s overdubbed murder cult chants and Jon Teague’s driving, through-composed drumming—gives us a hint of the duo’s capacity for soaking every moment in human circulatory fluid, while the second suggests what Depeche Mode might be like on dreamboat overdrive setting.
Speaking of influences, wearing theirs (Birthday Party, Suicide, Doors, Walker Brothers Swans, etc.) like LED sandwich boards never impedes the duo’s mission—any more than Beck’s natural attributes consign him to being just another pretty voice. The first half of “Tastes Like Blood” comes off like the darkest moment of a future Muse biopic, with young Frank Sinatra XII as Matt Bellamy, battered, emaciated, and softly crooning his heart out in the only NWO detention facility cell with a grand piano. But instead of busting out per Bellamy, freeing his bandmates, and saving the planet from tyrants and monopolists, the singer spends the song’s balance burrowing to deeper dungeons where he bellows like a centaur drunk on his own blood and/or despair over instrumental backing slow and fatal as calving glaciers.
While the slower tracks offer no lack of inspired/inspiring moments, it’s the faster ones that suck our cortexes into vortices whose familiar elements make them all the more likely to rip our expectations limb from limb. “Fall Down” and “Tell Her I’m Dead” both work the Birthday Party-meets-Suicide angle brilliantly, dragging us careening, down the sorts of subterranean corridors we might encounter in a city designed by Clive Barker. All the while Teague offers examples of how much a master drummer can accomplish in a two-person ensemble without ever getting cluttered or redundant. Beck is no slouch as an instrumentalist, either. His consistently propulsive basslines prove you don’t need strings to generate exemplary sludge, while what he does in the treble clef constantly reveals new textures and colors. Plus, he’s a consummate melodist across the board.
Still, from Teague’s every cymbal stroke to James Plotkin's typically optimal mastering, Pinkish Black is ultimately about vibe—and it’s vibe that makes the album’s welcome mat so plush. At a time when Christian publications discuss the implications of Katy Perry’s “new Gothic look”—and when simply making dark music and being wise beyond her years leaves Zola Jesus repeatedly shrugging off the “Goth standard bearer” tail writers raised on weaker stuff keep trying to pin on her, Beck and Teague plumb real abysses with a hell-bent earnestness bound to leave pretty much anybody squirming at least a little. [Handmade Birds]
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