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All words: Rick Taylor
All photos: Nathan Jurgenson
San Francisco’s The Soft Moon draws from the dark and icy side of post-punk’s past –– think Joy Division of course, but also The Cure’s landmark Pornography album, and all those wonderfully dark-hued 4AD 80s bands (Clan of Xymox anyone?)

And yet, as obvious as these reference points are, the band’s music still sounds fresh, invigorating and contemporary. That’s a testament to the enormous skills of multi-instrumentalist and sound guru Luis Vasquez, who is The Soft Moon (at least in the recorded guise –– he writes, performs and records everything himself).

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Unlike many of his 80s-indebted peers, Vasquez’s music never comes across as a slavish replication of a specific band or sound that has come before. So while there’s no doubt Vasquez’ music collection includes copies of Unknown Pleasures and Closer, there’s nothing on any of The Soft Moon’s recordings that could be mistaken for Joy Division.

It’s as if Vasquez uses his influences as pieces of clay – he takes only the specific pieces he wants (such as Peter Hook’s stentorian bass lines or Robert Smith’s spidery guitar), combines them with other sounds (such as tribal rhythms, clanky machine patterns, dubby echo, ear-piercing noise) and then molds and shapes them into something that suits his own specific purposes.

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The end result is a dark, urgent, and frequently eerie aesthetic that emphasizes mood and texture over traditional songwriting. So when Luis and his backing band took the stage on Sunday night at the Black Cat and kicked things off with a track off their terrific new album, “Zeroes,” it didn’t matter that no one in the audience could make out the lyrics.

And that leads me to something I was thinking about a lot before the show: Thus far, all of The Soft Moon’s recordings (two full lengths and an EP) have been true bedroom projects, handled only by Luis –– but how would the addition of two backing musicians affect the overall sound for the live show? I have seen way too many bands that have achieved aesthetic greatness on record only to struggle in a live environment.

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I needn’t have worried. Live, The Soft Moon is even more stark and deadly than it is on record, and much more visceral (as it should be.) You don’t just hear the pounding rhythms, you feel them. And those freaky forays into white noise and abstract weirdness are even crazier.

Not only did the band not disappoint, but there was a near capacity crowd on hand for the experience. Heading into the show, I wasn’t sure if the Black Cat backstage would be a sea of black clothing and pale faces, but the crowd was anything but uniformly goth (though I took special delight in seeing one dude who was a dead ringer for Azrael Abyss, the Prince of Sorrows.)

The crowd clearly relished The Soft Moon’s sinister atmosphere and penchant for throbbing bass pulses and thudding rhythms. When the band returned for an encore to rapturous applause, Luis Vasquez even cracked a smile. Who knew goths could have such a good time?

 

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