This is the music of my people. It is dark and mopey, and the bass drives it along with clattering funky riffs, the kind which makes middle aged white people shuffle their feet, tap their toes, and nod their heads. There is a hint of The Cure, The Smiths, New Order, Joy Division, and Depeche Mode all swirled together here into a general mishmash of 80s new wavishness.
It is, in its own way, glorious. It takes me back to the 80s, to pointless teenage wandering around the suburbs of Atlanta. Cobb County, so much to answer for...
But Holygram are a five-piece band from Köln, Deutschland, aka, Cologne, Germany. And i bet that none of them were even alive in the 1980s! The sound of my childhood has been distilled and re-packaged into "retro" entertainment for my middle age. I have no basis in understanding this: my parents were musical oddities -- fans of Jazz and Soul, outside of the pop mainstream, starting me off with music that was retro when they were teenagers. How does one deal with this tomb raiding of your formative years?
I suppose that this is the question that EvilSponge has been grappling with ever since Turn on the Bright Lights came out. And i still have no answer.
So i like Modern Cults because it is a living, breathing, viable reimagining of music that shaped me all those years ago. Your mileage may vary, of course. And at the same time, i also feel kind of lame listening to Holygram: why am i living in the past instead of listening to, i dunno, Kanye?
Well, i supposed that Kanye sucks eggs. He does not speak to me. His music is too "other", too foreign, whereas the music of these five Germans is my language. It speaks to me, by god, it speaks to me of things barely remembered, of thoughts and discussions that are important in that way that only teenagers can make them...
Holygram kick things off with an instrumental that is moody and dark. A sample wavers in static alongside a faint electro beat, keyboards droning, and a guitar clattering and distorted. I imagine a fog machine working overtime while this song slowly grows, the band dark shadows in the mist. It's called Into the Void, and after a minute it swells, the guitar coming into shape, the drums becoming more solid, and a bass riff - by god the bass! - wavering through as the song shifts into the album's title track. Vocals join in, flat and disinterested in a way that seems so very Germanic and also so very new wave. "Lose yourself / in modern health / you know it's part of / your religion" he chants, the music wavering and clattering underneath that voice. Perfect.
A Faction kicks off with a keyboard squeal out of early Depeche Mode, then a guitar comes in like The Edge torturing his guitar on stage at Red Rocks. The beat is a steady hit, the voice almost lost under the keyboard, which swells up on the chorus into a loud riff that overpowers the guitars.
Signals starts with a swagger: a bass riff and flat electro drum hits. Then the guitar comes in, chiming and echoed. This one reminds me of the industrial new wave of Odonis Odonis, with a little bit of The Chameleons thrown in on the guitarwork. The song slowly fades, and then the beat changes slightly and we are into Dead Channel Skies, four minutes of thudding beats, distorted guitar swirling, and the voice lost in the mix, almost like a long drawn out coda to Signals. On the first few listens, i actually didn't realize this was a separate song since the rhythm and melody are so similar, and it all just flows together.
After the noise squeals to a close, fading into ambient keyboard haze, Holygram give us Hideaway, and this type of dark moody new wave hasn't been this catchy since the Reid brothers decided to hire a band to play alongside them. This is as perfect of a song as i have heard in a while, made out of strong bass, clanging drums, and the guitars swelling up on the choruses.
Still There tears ahead with throbbing synths and guitars. The way that the voice is echoed here reminds me of The Chameleons. Odd Neighbourhood follows this, keeping things in The Chameleons area. The guitars here really chime and sparkle like something from Script of the Bridge.
She's Like The Sun is a nice rocker, but the lyrics give me pause. "She's like the sun / Far away". So, it's not that she is bright or warm, it's just that she is far away. I guess she is also like Pluto, which, is, at times, farther away than the sun. Whatever. It's still a very catchy song.
Distant Light is a warbling goth dance number buried under feedback. And then to wrap everything up, Holygram give us the closest thing they get to a ballad, the slow burbling 1997. Ah, i remember that year, basking the aftermath of the Atlanta Olympics. That is when i got my first IT job, back at IBM... However, that was 21 years before the release of this record, which is probably most of, if not all, of the life span of the people who wrote this record. Their take on the year is burbling synths and slow guitar combined to seem melancholy.
I am very impressed.