Discombobulation is a feeling very much ingrained in us all at this point and Closure In Moscow, Australia’s progenitors of funked-about prog-pop, make that part of their mantra. It’s a shame to have seen them disappear for a time, now returning from a period of intentional and unintentional upheaval to dance their way back into the sonic universe. With emphasis on the dance.
Those early Equal Vision days were a delight. Post-hardcore had outstretched beyond the confines of its punkier routes, with its experimental artists splattering clashing guitars and propellant drums Jackson Pollock-style one minute, then soothing us into heady hues. Closure’s off-kilter days of metallic panic chords may be lost to the 00s days when avant gardeness felt like an understandable reaction to a world in confusion. But for the first time since 2014, the band’s hibernation (focusing on second jobs, marriages and children) seems to have ended at a time when worldly confusion has peaked. Soft Hell plays on this, looking into calamities drawing from individual lethargy to the ridiculous state of the dreadful world around us, dragging us from darkness with noodling melodic hooks.
Pinning down the band’s best features is tough when their inspirations are cut from prog rock’s overtly weird landscape. Christopher de Cinque’s love for the vocal melodies of Cedric Bixler-Zavala is obvious, but perhaps tastier and less masked by effects and chalkboard-ingratiating squeals (no shade to the legendary Mars Volta, they’re grand). Closure has played with Southern rock scuzz on Pink Lemonade before (like the hit ‘n’ miss Happy Days), but mould the style around a sexy Eagles Of Death Metal swagger here on single Primal Sinister, a shimmery moonwalk that struts its stuff along with a delightful “write my name in your Doomsday Book, yeah!” refrain. In no way indicative of the rest of the album, there are comparisons to UK indie scene-stealing (can you recall Undercover Martyn in Better Way, just with more bite and guitar solos?), finger-clicking, hip-clutching synchronised dance grooves (Holy Rush), and R&B by way of Raphael Saddiq on the title track.
Michael Barrett and Mansur Zennelli’s guitars pluck little caricatures around Duncan Millar’s bass often, whose walking and punctuated thumps delightfully tip-tap along with Salvatore Aidone’s drums. Everyone’s almost tongue-in-cheek Earth, Wind & Fire backing vocals bring a smile. But no matter how much they dial up the corniness, the ‘vox and synth intro’ peeks its head a little too often, whereas the band’s unorthodox song structures strike the most compelling feats of musicianship. Longer song structures see freakish all-hell-let-lose axe moments (Don Juan Triumphant) which are sadly short-lived. The album’s middle section suffers from autopilot, despite much needed respite from oozy slower cut Keeper Of The Lake, and makes you yearn again for their speciality spice.
Luckily, that’s apparent across the board. Cascading rhythm changes and a rollicking coda open the album with Jaeger Bomb, a heart-racing/stopping combo akin to its namesake. My Dearest Kate is a raw acoustic closer acting as an interesting study into how they develop song skeletons into romping full-band final products. Speaking of: Absolute Terror Field. It’s a track whose intro goes from a menacing Cheshire Cat grimace to prancing with flair along the tree branches. It could be a wedding disco floor filler if it wasn’t for the dirtiest of bass tones to piss off the father of the bride. As perhaps Soft Hell’s highlight, Lovelash channels the ‘80s penchant for neon synths and has a BALLAD for a chorus, even leaning close to the beautifully crafted Purple Rain outro blueprint.
There’s bubbly positivity all across Soft Hell, and even the dreary moments are hammed up to match their playful post-hardcore style. But it’s the full genre pastiches being unleashed without restraint that supply the biggest payoffs. Streamlining the record to focus more on the surprises the five-piece are capable of may have worked to their advantage, but given the band’s absence, their collection of fuzzy-minded groove cuts make up for the years not spent playing air guitars on makeshift dancefloors to their music.
For fans of: The Mars Volta, Royal Coda, Coheed And Cambria
‘Soft Hell’ by Closure In Moscow is released on 27th October on Bird’s Robe Records.
Words by Elliot Burr