There are so many indie bands out there turning out club-friendly tracks in the “darkwave” genre – a music industry catch-all that loosely covers a variety of moody, down-tempo, sensual and exotic music styles often favored by the Goth community – that it takes a little extra something to stand above the crowd… something that this LA-based duo has managed to do for many years without the assistance of a major label, which is no small feat.
I’ve been digging Collide since I discovered them via their second album Chasing the Ghost, and since then I’ve heard their music pop up all over the place – including genre films like The Covenant and Resident Evil: Extinction – and lately their assembly of a live touring band (with regular members including guitarists Scott Landes & Rogerio Silva, drummer Chas Pease and bassist Kai Kurosawa) helped to transform their low-key electro groove into a harder, more aggressive industrial-rock sound. They also pursued an interesting side project last year dubbed The Secret Meeting, in collaboration with Dean Garcia of Curve (a band with many of the same styles and themes in common), and released the album Ultrashiver to generally favorable reviews.
Still, I’ve been ready for original Collide material for a while now, and thankfully, the reward for my patience arrived with the release of Two Headed Monster, their fourth full-length album of all new tracks.
Described by the band as a study in “the duality and balance of life from an alien point of view,” the themes of Monster involve an examination of human nature from an outsider’s perspective. “Sometimes I feel like an alien from another planet,” explains singer-songwriter kaRIN. “I never have followed the path that most people take, doing what they think they are supposed to be doing.”
Taking the unexpected path is something Collide has managed quite well over the years, and although they may surprise darkwave fans expecting to hear more of the same, sticking to the old groove was definitely not their intention. “It’s still important to me not to remake the same songs that we have made before, and not to tread on anyone else’s path,” states kaRIN’s creative partner Statik, the band’s chief instrumentalist.
The path they ultimately chose is much closer by nature to straight modern rock than down-tempo electronica. The focus appears to have moved from the creation of subtle, hauntingly erotic moods to more of a pulse-racing momentum – and for the most part, I’d say this was the correct choice for keeping the material fresh.
Make no mistake, the signature Collide sound is there: kaRIN’s calm, wind-whispering vocals still float like a mist over Statik’s deliberate beat structures, which now are even punchier thanks to some harsh synth textures and extra-gritty guitar riffs which have evolved from mere accents into a central sonic element. Adding greatly to the effect are explosive rhythm contributions by Tool’s Danny Carey, a frequent Collide contributor. But despite this dialing up of the grinding instrumental machinery, the soft vocals still cut through the mix with surprising precision. The result may be a bit less slinky-sexy than their previous work, but the emotional content is stronger.
This new paradigm is immediately evident with opening track “Tongue Tied & Twisted,” its rusty-edged guitar work reminiscent of Nine Inch Nails' Fragile period (my personal favorite), the high-rolling tempo and thick vocal harmonies of “Chaotic” and the bouncing beat and wah-wah effects of “A Little Too Much,” which recalls the “wall-of-sound” approach to Curve's early work like Frozen.
The dark piano strains and swirling Pink Floyd guitars that kick off “Pure Bliss” hint at the coming turn to a more brooding menace, finally bursting into dark flames of heavily distorted downtuned guitars and overdriven vocals to become one of the most emotionally satisfying tracks. This one's a strong repeater, and definitely the best of the bunch.
The more hypnotic tone that pervades their earlier albums does seem to sink in again on the second half, with electronic noise and overdriven rhythm guitar driven further back in the mix in favor of warm atmospheres and smoky sensuality. Among these, the wide canvas of “Silently Creeping” is the most powerful, with its rich orchestral washes and low fuzz guitar wails, and the pumped-up '90s style trip-hop of “Shifting” runs a close second. The album closes on a mellow note with the soothing immersive swirls of “Utopia,” topped with some impressive lead guitar chops.
Another common thread among these songs – and one of the band's consistent strengths – is the seamless integration of multiple layers of sound. With heavy drumming and robust bass pinning down the low end, and kaRIN's vocals occupying the top of the sonic spectrum, there's a lot of room for intricate guitar licks and noise-rock synth mayhem in the frequencies between. Statik's production skills just get better and better with each effort, and it's no surprise he's been a go-to name in music programming, with a resume that runs the gamut from Skinny Puppy to Prince to Christina Aguilera.
Overall I really like the direction Collide has taken lately, and I’d like to hear them push even deeper into the more aggressive material displayed here. I think this approach is even more keenly suited to their live performances, which remain a rare and unique experience, since the band does not tour widely or often. If you’re not able to catch one of their shows, I’d recommend also picking up their first concert DVD Like the Hunted through their website [www.collide.net]. While you’re there, check out kaRIN’s “Saints and Sinners” clothing line, and take a virtual tour of Statik’s NoisePlus studios.