Johnathan|Christian, the haunting new transatlantic project from American composer Johnathan Mooney (The New Creatures) and Swedish dark-rocker Christian Granquist (The Atom) have produced not one but two impressive debuts: the full-length album Beautiful Hideous arrived late last year, earning major props across the gothic, industrial, darkwave and other alternative music press; the band followed up that success this month with a remix of the single “I Walk This Earth Alone,” featuring the talents of Danish industrial music legend Leæther Strip (a.k.a. Clause Larsen), and the two records combined represent some the best of old and new gothic rock/darkwave styles, strongly reminiscent of early death-rock legends Christian Death and '80s goth icons Sisters of Mercy, but with a modern production sheen.
The band's songwriting doesn't seem to be designed with the dance floor in mind, but rather as a kind of dream soundtrack to an extremely dark thriller or doomed romance; Mooney confirms that this approach comes partly from his background as a composer: “[W]hen I come up with an idea for a song, it’s not just a song – it’s a vision,” he explains. “I’m actually hearing a whole storyline in my head like scoring to a film.” Granquist, who writes the lyrics and supplies the lead vocals on the album, refers to this “quasi-cinematic ambiance” as the foundation for his words: “Lyrically I seek inspiration in pretty dark themes,” he says, which include “conflict, separation anxiety and death.”
"I Walk This Earth Alone," the album's lead track and single, is the perfect capsule of this band's sensibilities, bringing together classical instrumentation (mostly samples, but well-arranged) with surprisingly warm guitar riffs, harmonized vocal layers and organic drums. The Leæther Strip remixes (available as a stand-alone EP) open up the song to new interpretation; Mooney was creatively inspired by Larsen's 1997 album Self-Inficted, and is thrilled to bring the artist onboard to take a stab (so to speak) at the track, which Larsen calls nothing less than “pure sex.” A pretty accurate description, I'd say.
The tragic chords of the title track also get the remix treatment, taking on a more robotic tone, and we also get an exotic new spin on the ultra-gothy “Haunted” by Martin Bowes of UK gothic/industrial legend Attrition, who puts his distinctive avant-garde stamp on it, with surreal effects and a sliding bass line reminiscent of Bauhaus's more experimental albums like Mask. As its title suggests, the grandiose "Before The Dark (Avant que l'ombre)" features a mix of English and French lyrics by Granquist, which plays to the melancholy romanticism of Moody's arrangements.
The same rich textures come across in the fairytale choirs of "The Sweetest Betrayal," which again plays the Bauhaus card (consciously or not) as Granquist channels the dulcet tones of Peter Murphy. The instrumental “Just to Ease The Pain" begins on a subdued note, expanding to include sweeping prog-rock passages before returning to earth with a solemn piano coda; heavy guitars come back into play for "My Private Room," which closes on an epic rock opera vibe. Serious Duran Duran fans may recognize traces of that band's obscure track "The Chauffeur," which gets a certain dark cabaret spin here with talk-sung lyrics and a soaring conclusion.
Both Beautiful Hideous and I Walk This World Alone are graced with amazing cover art by Alex McVey (whose horror credentials include book covers for Stephen King, H.P. Lovecraft, Ramsey Campbell, Joe R. Landsdale, Jack Ketchum, Brian Keene, Joe Hill and many more), who set out to capture the themes of painful, violent emotions and barren landscapes of the soul. It's the perfect wrapping for a heavy, moody and thoroughly angst-ridden package... and if you're a fan of romantic death rock, '80s gothic and darkwave, you'll be surprised at how much new blood (ahem) Johnathan|Christian injects into those genres.
Both releases are now available for digital download via Bandcamp.