If there was a fault to These Hidden Hands, it was that the music—made of steel-on-steel drums and beaten with bloodied fists—offered few moments of relief. Vicarious Memories is far more balanced. It's still a heavyweight affair, best served live and loud, but it's also fragile. Where its predecessor inhabited a bleak, hostile place, Vicarious Memories comes from a warmer, more sanguine headspace. Tracks like "The Telepath," "Dendera Light" and "SZ31X71" are still armed and deadly, with jarring, high-pitched barbs designed to make you squirm. But with every dose of pain there's soothing pleasure—such as Julia Kotowski's velveteen voice, or the hushed midsection of "SZ31X71," a reprieve between sky-splitting climaxes.
These Hidden Hands have also expanded their instrumentation and added a more obvious human element. The whispers of "Grelles Licht" come from Kotowski's voice, and "Lima 3AM" features Ale Hop's woozy guitar and throaty seductions. It all helps to enhance the album's depth of field, making for some sublime electronic ballads. In that respect, "Hoh XiI" is the pièce de résistance. As dank and captivating as a Forest Swords number, it's emotive, melodic and slightly spacey, with a dramatic climax that creeps up slowly before it overwhelms. Such new developments in These Hidden Hands' sound make Vicarious Memories a memorable album.