Bringing “the heavy” in new and interesting ways is tough, but Texas duo Pinkish Black have a way of making it sound easy. Frighteningly dark and drenched in desperation, they evoke everything from the more obvious horror-tinged vibes to ephemeral, unsettling tension. They’re never really heavy in the sense of “metal,” but with a robust array of synth tones, haunting vocals, and morose themes, they’re undeniably fucking crushing. Boasting a concoction that’s part krautrock, goth, prog, psych, and synth rock, their landmark 2015 release Bottom of the Morning demonstrated that the doom-adjacent sum of these parts can encourage a persistent curiosity, surprise, and unease. Daron Beck (keys, synth, vocals) and Jon Teague (drums, synth) have a firm grasp on how to be crafty about their melodicism, embracing enchanting hooks and near-danceable rhythms as frequently as they drift away in trances. In practice, this a tease as much as it is a sort of prescribed distribution for ideal results – it’s never too sweet, never too heady, never too anything. They had found a place for everything, and put everything in its place.
Initially, Concept Unification seeks to maintain this balance, to the point where the title track opener is something of a thematic parallel to the title track of Bottom of the Morning. There’s even something of a callback to 2015’s title track where Beck writhes “Everyday’s the same again,” but this time we have “Everything is coming back again / Nothing ever changes anyway” where nostalgia is as futile and fruitless as it has ever been. His deadpan delivery is a dreary underscore, bested only by the droning synth washes and painfully diligent drumming. It’s not the tumultuous and adventurous opening that “Brown Rainbow” was, but it’s certainly as effective at getting its point across and setting the tone – a sign of things to come. “Until” livens things up a bit, introducing some much-needed energy in the form of volume, tempo, and keyboard groans that are closer to the vein of their earlier work. “Dial Tone” reverts to the resigned pace of the lead-off track and, short of some crushing distortion in the chorus, is as lifeless as the person Beck is calling out to. It has a weak pulse, but the synth melodies and lurching drums couldn’t be more fitting, though it becomes increasingly apparent that Pinkish Black aren’t interested in maintaining the keen diversity achieved on their prior outings.
Still, if there’s one thing that Pinkish Black absolutely nail, it’s atmosphere and temperament. They ultimately becomes the focus of Concept Unification. Without vocals, “Petit Mal” and “Inanimatronic” create something of a vacuum where listeners can hear Carpenter-esque spine-chilling fogs breathe down the backs of their necks. These instrumentals are cinematic, chilling, personless, and lonely; but also exhausted and exhausting. While the album lacks in immediacy and a curiosity-piquing variety of turns, the duo this time finds confidence in the sprawl of mood-setting and climactic builds. In their longest track to date, “Next Solution” gradually ramps up the pace and power from the instrumentals, culminating at a peak that’s satisfying, but maybe a bit delayed. This piano-centric piece is stunning and among their most evocative material to date as it augments their cavernous krautrock with a post-rock dimension. Teague’s drumming is as driving as ever, but reserved in a way that’s often unstirring (minus “Until” and “We Wait”). The run from “Dial Tone” through “Next Solution” is slow to the point where it becomes passive, and if it weren’t for a few swelling (and dare I say uplifting?) moments, almost static. Unfortunately, things don’t really pick up again. The final two tracks (exclusive to digital release) continue down this path, cementing the record as a whole delicate, subdued, and dreamlike.
Pinkish Black push themselves forward and maybe even a out of their comfort zone with Concept Unification. It’s a solid record that’s every bit as dark as they’ve been before, reaching a level of depression, gloom, and sadness that the group haven’t quite achieved before. Rather than doubling down on the unnerving and tense atmospheres they’ve already perfected, this go around feels exploratory and uneven. No longer haunting but rather haunted. It’s often beautiful, but often tired and sedated, too. The dynamism and peculiarity that materialized on past records have been largely abandoned, and the exquisite balance of atmosphere and ear-grabbing melody has been skewed to highlight icy indifference over surprise. It’s a solid addition to their discography that introduces a new facet of unsettling dread, but it’s almost too lonely and sparse to pursue over the intriguing contrasts found on their earlier material. At a time when pulsating, visceral synthwave has become household, it’s interesting that Pinkish Black buck the trend. It’s just a shame that they weren’t able to tap into some of that excitement.
Concept Unification is available on June 14 via Relapse Records.