As the proverbial adage says, those who can't play music write about it instead. But if I had the talent (and the will), a large swathe of Death in Vegas' work is what I'd want my own stuff to sound like. Needless to say, then, the release of Trans-Love Energies, Richard Fearless' first album in seven years had me waiting with trepidation. Thankfully, the album is quite possibly his most stirring and accomplished work to date.
Whereas Fearless (and his old affiliate Tim Holmes) used various guests to add warmth to their productions—from fragile (Dot Allison, Hope Sandoval, Woodbine's Susan Dillane) or domineering (Adult.'s Nicola Kuperus) female vocalists to strongly individualistic rock & roll daddies (Paul Weller, Bobby Gillespie, Iggy Pop or, well, Liam Gallagher)—this new album sees the Death in Vegas main man get behind the microphone. At first, Fearless' voice may sound juvenile and green, but it perfectly fits its intimate surroundings. From the get-go, the album's confessional tone is set by "Silver Time Machine": its soft fade-in recalls Spiritualized at their most heart-breaking and distressed while the "she left me" lyrical mantra is made more poignant by some delicate banjo (yes, banjo) plucking.
In contrast, "Black Hole" evokes My Bloody Valentine's immersive shoegaze, while "Scissors" could just as easily have been titled "Teenage Lust." Producers often go back to the music that shaped their adolescence, and in Trans-Love Energies' case, you can clearly hear The Jesus and Mary Chain lurking in the background during its nosier, guitar-drenched moments. Yet, it never sounds dated, or pointlessly retro: somehow, it all fits.
Only with third track "Your Loft My Acid" are we offered a first hint of proper electro àla "Hands Around My Throat." Katie Stelmanis of Austra guests, her operatic coo complementing Fearless' perverse acidic tweaks. She shows up again on "Witch Dance," which doesn't veer far away from Austra's own aesthetics; it reminds of their song "Spellwork," albeit with a less glossy sheen. On these two cuts, Fearless' take on synthetic pop is weirdly lo-fi, and synths are made to sound exhausted yet strangely humane. The same can be said about "Medication" and "Coum," which both recall Spiritualized's fragile universe again, with Fearless trading the gospel choir and bombastic arrangements for minor pads and misshapen, distorted melodies.
The self-explanatory "Drone Reich" offers the same kind of warped ambience while coming across as a Satan Circus outtake—as does most of the instrumental material made available on a second, limited edition CD. Older fans might feel more comfortable with these, even though it's obvious Death in Vegas wants to take them elsewhere with the album proper. This is never more evident than on the album's closing duo "Lightning Bolt"/"Savage Love," the former a cavernous and restless go at new-wave-like indie-rock noir built around a stomping bassline, a reverberating Moog and an evanescent guitar riff, the latter a slow-motion yet conquering, rumbling anthem that bursts into a jubilant and orchestral display of white noise. It's a fitting end to a truly striking album.
Buy Death in Vegas - Trans-Love Energies at
Tracklist: Death in Vegas - Trans-Love Energies 01. Silver Time Machine
02. Black Hole
03. Your Loft My Acid
06. Witch Dance
08. Drone Reich
09. Lightning Bolt
10. Savage Love