Since The Soft Moon’s 2010 self-titled debut, Luis Vasquez has been creating dark electronic records as a one-man post-punk outfit. In the intervening years, Vasquez relocated from Oakland to Italy while slowly shifting his sound away from the whispered lyrics and haunting melodies that marked the beginning of his career. His latest release, Criminal (Sacred Bones Records), delves head-on into the industrial sound with which he flirted on 2014’s Deeper. This Soft Moon now has a much harder edge. If the previous records were often dark in an introspective and brooding way, Vasquez now directs his rage outward, with tracks that he has said deal with guilt and abuse.
Beginning with the leadoff cut, “Burn,” where Vasquez asserts, “I am the stranger living in my skin, and it burns,” over distorted guitar and an industrial beat, the record doesn’t relent even when giving way to tracks like “ILL,” a staticky affair with drill-like effects. Criminal has been drawing comparison by critics and fans to Nine Inch Nails, a comparison that’s easily made when listening to “Choke,” which is reminiscent of NIN’s “Somewhat Damaged,” with its guitar distortion and tortured sing-song lyrics. But while The Fragile was a great record, do we need another? And do we need it now?
The minimalism that worked so well for the Soft Moon’s earlier darkwave sounds ends up sounding dated when applied to this industrial tack, and tracks like “Give Something” and “Like a Father” fall flat. Though there’s been a slow shift towards this aesthetic, those who liked the debut may not feel this incarnation as much. Of course, an industrial record about guilt, anxiety, and abuse isn’t supposed to be a comfortable listen, and no one can begrudge the Soft Moon’s sound for evolving. Vasquez has always marched to the beat of his own drum machine, so it may just take some time for everyone else to adjust.