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The Soft Moon Criminal Sacred Bones

Luis Vasquez is still not over his personal demons. Since The Soft Moon’s self-titled 2010 debut, the mechanised riffs, post-punk squirms and groggy krautrock beats of the Oakland-based one-man-band have remained. On Criminal, The Soft Moon’s fourth studio album, these sounds are at their most gruelling, and most sharply-produced, yet.

Criminal details some of the darkest aspects of the human experience – shame, guilt, violence, desperation, self-loathing. Give Something, then, is a pleasing break from the intense motor that runs through the first couple of tracks, as higher-pitched synths observe more nuanced vocals that wreak of desperation rather than sheer anger. It’s still painstaking, but on an album defined by its horror, there is beauty in the spaciousness which is wrought into delicate melodies.

It is by focusing his anger on things outside himself – the father who abandoned him, in Like a Father, and the cocaine that stripped him apart, in Choke – that Vasquez manages some sort of catharsis. Criminal really grips on most in its instrumental passages, as on the thundering opening to Born Into This. On the title track and album closer, passages of mottled jangly synths are enclosed with blasts of tense white noise. The result is claustrophobic. The inside of Luis Vasquez’s head is hardly the comfiest place to be shown around. But if you can bear the intensity, what is revealed on Criminal is stark in its honesty.