If you’re managing to keep up with my rampant insanity here on the FEARnet music pages (and if you are, I salute your courage), you know I’ve got a major geek-on for the UK’s legendary experimental band Attrition, who have been busily carving out their very own dark corner of the music world for a quarter-century, and are now enjoying a surge in popularity among goth and darkwave fans – thanks in part to their hauntingly beautiful live performances. Over the past year, those shows have benefited from the luminous presence of Sin D’Rella, whose ghostly vocals add a new layer of sinister beauty to the soundscapes created by founder Martin Bowes.
Not too long ago I came across the sounds of Sin’s solo project Imprint, in the form of the track “Eden” on Shinto Records’ new Sin-Tech sampler. It was a haunting piece that seemed to come from a similar creative space as Attrition (although Sin had formed Imprint before joining up with Bowes’ group), but it was just the tip of a deeper subterranean groove that holds its own on her debut release, The Wisdom Out of the Wound. Sin recently provided me with a copy of her self-released CD, and I’ll tell you all about the dark secrets I found lurking within that sweet-smelling black disc…
Imprint’s sound was first introduced to British audiences one year ago, and Sin & company later embarked to the US for a west-coast tour, which featured a controversial “altered” rendition of “America the Beautiful” sung at a Los Angeles show smack in the middle of election season. Sin also made an impression on Joy Division’s Peter Hook, who said Imprint’s cover of the legendary song “Love Will Tear Us Apart” was so haunting it “Sent shivers up my spine.” The buzz also reached the ear of famous alt-music journalist Mick Mercer, who gave the new music high marks, and earned Imprint a nod in music mag NME as one of the unsigned acts to watch out for. The Wisdom Out of the Wound could be considered exhibit A for that case.
Wisdom is a short but sweet collection of dark electronic tone-poems in the form of six primary songs and a 10-minute ambient bonus track. Despite the consistent structure of the songs, there’s a distinct feel and personality to each tune, revealing how electronic instruments, in the right hands, can span a limitless spectrum of moods. But it’s Sin’s distinctive voice – full of lush and smoky tone, but with an often knife-sharp emotional edge – which serves as the key to fitting the many-colored pieces together.
That vocal edge proves sharpest in opening cut “Feedback,” thanks to heavy distortion effects, accompanied by dark bass synth blasts to underscore abrasive lyrics possibly directed at a suicidal, self-loathing individual (“Make your choice, or I may do it for you”). This angst-ridden intro is abruptly followed by the melancholy “Sleep,” which is appropriately dreamlike, but steals away some of that early momentum before the pulsing, hypnotic beat and synth/piano lines of “Divided” pick it back up again, building a threatening atmosphere that is equal parts old school goth-rock and sexy deep-trance groove.
“Reptilian” drives headlong into David Lynch territory, beginning mysteriously with an off-the-cuff spoken intro, followed by a deep, almost subliminal bass line and a shuffling acoustic drum break beneath Sin’s sultry torch-song vocals, as orchestra strings swell majestically toward the climax. The beat-free “Apathy and Demise” opens in a swirly synth cloud from which quiet, naked vocals emerge, filled with much of the same pointedly bitter accusation that began in the opening track – and it turns exponentially darker and more frightening as it progresses. “The Offering” is a requiem of sorts, tinged with deep sadness (“I would offer you my body just so you could learn to feel… I would offer you my blood, if only you’d understand... I would offer you my life, if I thought it could save you”).
Taking a cue from Nine Inch Nails’ Broken EP, the bonus instrumental “Let Me Go – Prelude” is hidden away on track 97, following over seven minutes of 5-second “empty” tracks. For those of you who immediately rip CDs to iTunes, the desired effect may be lost (and you’ll have some digital housecleaning to do), but this cut is a must-have for fans of dark ambient soundscapes, and it’s excellent lights-out listening – filled with angelic choirs, distorted industrial tones, piano breaks and cosmic synth washes. It made me realize just what Peter Cook meant about the whole shivers-up-the-spine thing.
Overall, this is a memorable first outing, and Sin is a force to be reckoned with. Before listening, I expected that much of Martin Bowes’ creative style would have rubbed off, but it turns out in some respects it might actually be the other way around: I realize now I’ve been hearing some of Sin's imprint (pun semi-intended) on Attrition’s recent work, and I’d say this new dimension is very much to that group’s benefit.
On a side note, Sin’s creative sensibilities extend from the music to the CD itself: she personalizes the package for each buyer, including handwritten track notes and a personal message (mine actually did smell amazing – no joke!), and slips the silver metal CD case into a satin pouch. The packaging has the feel of a high-dollar promotion but feels personal and intimate, reminding you that there’s lots of great reasons to support independent artists… but more importantly, it’s also very cool music, and would probably pack the same punch with or without major-label muscle behind it. In the end, that’s all that matters.