The Twilight Garden: 'A World We Pretend' - CD Review

A while back, yours truly took a side trip down the less-traveled path of dark pop, with particular attention to some of the darkwave/post-punk output from labels like Projekt Records. It’s been a while since I spent some quality ear-time with that label’s releases, and when this title came my way, I decided to pay them another visit. The debut album from dark future-pop act The Twilight Garden turned out to be well worth a listen, thanks to a doom-filled retro synth groove that suggests the perfect score to a stylish underground Euro-vampire flick circa 1989. Hit the jump, read on and explore the subterranean future fantasy of this chilling first outing, A World We Pretend.

The creation of Todd Loomis – whose projects have include the vamp-themed album Lust for Blood with Bryan Erickson’s Velvet Acid Christ – Twilight Garden is a more subdued venture that taps heavily into ‘80s gothic pioneers, with particular attention to The Cure; in fact, even the band’s title is likely a nod to a Cure song. The influence of Robert Smith is quite apparent in Loomis’s vocal style – which ranges from a low, tense murmur to a tremulous wail – but the instrumental structure is a bit less directly influenced, instead lovingly recreating the warm analog synths of bands like OMD. The result of this heady blend gives the vocals a smooth, decadent feel. Loomis’s preference for slower, more deliberate tempos makes these tracks decidedly less danceable, but it’s a solid chill-out record for those of us who tend to shun the morning sun.

According to Loomis, writing and recording these new songs called up emotional states “from ecstasy to emptiness,” which he hoped to capture in sonic snapshots for each track. “All moments are fleeting, and all things end,” he explains. “When put into a recording though, something transient can be fixed in time and given extended life… music allows that energy to live in someone else for a time.”

That may seem like an overly romanticized concept, but rest assured this isn’t your standard puffy-shirted Goth self-pity stuff; there’s a definite emotional intensity at work here, and to me the music seems most joyous when embracing feelings of despair, in turn offering a genuine sense of release. That’s extremely hard for an artist to pull off effectively… unless they’re really feeling it, and I get the impression Loomis is pouring all of himself into this project. Though the intensity is dialed a few notches down from the fiery electro-pop of acts like Chris Corner’s IAMX, there’s still a steady, smoldering heat emanating from these tracks.

From the first simple synth chords of opener I Am Echo, you’re quickly seduced into a dangerous world. Both lyrically and instrumentally, this is a low-key, minimalist mood-maker that sets the tone for the more intense Dead Adults, which is definitely one of the album’s standouts. The Ice King brings the Cure influence front-and-center lyrically, vocally and instrumentally – calling to mind that band’s Disintegration era with its swirling, reverb-soaked guitars, capturing that same floating, dreamlike quality.

Guitars step aside again for the swirling synth strings of the slow-moving, sweetly melancholy title track, but the tone turns inquisitive for the bouncy mid-tempo A-Wake and the slow, darkly lurching Retainer Maintainer. The Puppeteers, with its stabbing synth bass line and glassy overhead washes is a strong callback to Loomis’s stint with Velvet Acid Christ (which often combined sparkling, angelic leads with minor key death-machine beats) and Loomis’s vocals reflect that band’s style as well, ranging from high-pitched cries to low, harsh whispers.

Delusions of Us and Something Beautiful return to a somber, reminiscent tone, the former accented by high icy chords and the latter by warm, gentle washes of ambient sound. Melancholy Crush serves a distinctly sinister closer, thanks to distant rolling bass and tight, no-frills percussion, with Loomis’s ghostly, delivery – at times strongly reminiscent of David Bowie’s ’95 concept album Outside – before soaring into a high-range climax enhanced by a touch of robotic vocoder, like an electrical phantom.

Apart from the more deliberately-paced Dead Adults and The Puppeteers, most of these cuts take their time building energy and intensity, but for the most part that approach doesn’t diminish their strength. This isn’t exactly an instant-gratification album, but I’d say the rewards are definitely there. Projekt is a very good home for Loomis's debut – it's moody enough to please the label's darkwave/goth-pop core audience, but with the added bonus of one or two strong singles with enough rhythmic energy and sexy beats to bust out as solid club tracks. Those who appreciate VAC's recent diversions from hard electro-industrial to moodier, spookier material – arguably one of that band's more interesting creative decisions – should definitely give A World We Pretend a spin.