As I covered in our video premiere for “Calm,” Secret Shame strike just the right balance of post-punk nostalgia and innovation. The group employs a “dark rock” kaleidoscope throughout Dark Synthetics that touches on elements of deathrock, darkwave, and goth rock. Yet, at their core, the band maintains the punk energy that defined the earliest days of their genre; in essence, falling somewhere between Warsaw and Joy Division on post-punk’s moodiness scale. It makes the album’s 27-minute runtime more memorable and affecting, as does the band’s penchant for writing songs that are complete statements in and of themselves.
Opener “Gift” sets the tone immediately and effectively, as a resonant bass riff rings out over a consistent drum beat and Lena’s hauntingly beautiful vocals. Lena remains an asset throughout the album, with vocals that soar, bite, and croon at just the right moments. The track’s energy and aggression level jumps up as the guitars arrive, with a noticeably alluring guitar tone; it’s something like a “distorted jangle” quintessential to the classic post-punk sound.
Both “Comfort” and “Creature” continue this energetic trend, with punchy chord progressions and persistent, driving grooves from the rhythm section. Lena continues to sing with a certain fire and mysticism, like a thoroughly unamused specter. “Dark” is defined by the album’s sparse but poignant use of synths, which cushion the tracks’ proceedings and add a ghostly, haunted air. Again, the track maintains the signature bounce that the band have developed up to this point.
Secret Shame prove they can turn up the darkness on the back half of the album. “Haunter” also employs effective synths to conjure an atmosphere, with warm, synthetic tones weaving around Lena’s vocals. The track does reach a slightly noisy climax towards the end, continuing the band’s dynamic songwriting. The aforementioned “Calm” is even more bleak in its emotional palette, with a hypnotic bass groove and biting guitar chords under Lena’s soaring voice. Finally, “Storm” closes out the album with a summary of the preceding musical ideas, synthesizing elements of noise, melody, and atmosphere to craft a fittingly somber finale.
Post-punk is one of the oldest rock subgenres to remain both relevant and largely untouched. Most post-punk albums follow an established formula that’s worked for decades but doesn’t always feel as revelatory as it once did. Secret Shame recognizes this, as evidence by the way Dark Synthetics specifically aims to breathe new life into the genres it draws from. A whole host of sounds from the dark rock pantheon make it into the albums tracks, and each song manages to update them with a sense of urgency and a touch of the band’s own personality. It’s a must-listen for anyone looking to spin 2019’s essential post-punk offerings.
Dark Synthetics is available now and can be purchased directly from Secret Shame via Bandcamp. Click here for the band’s full tour schedule