Whether it’s the legacy of The Knife, or a whole lot of Cure fans coming of age, flavour of the month seems to be a kind of updated electro-goth. Freddy Ruppert may be a new name to most, but his collaborators here include one of the most deservedly hyped artists of the year, Nika Roza Danilova (AKA Zola Jesus), and the inimitable Jamie Stewart (AKA Xiu Xiu) – responsible for two of the year’s best albums. Expectations, then, are high for Former Ghosts, and with all three touring together this autumn, the gigs promise to be fairly momentous.
With its slow-buzzing synths and dry beats lacerated by Autechre-harsh shrieks and squeals, The Days Will Get Long Again opens the album in fine style; plus, it’s dead on trend, alongside Cold Cave and Salem. A run of slightly prettier tunes follow, not far off Casiotone for the Painfully Alone, but with a near-subliminal layer of synth-choir drones, and artificial distortion rather than the warmth of lo-fi recordings. Across the first few tracks, the contrast is striking, and effective – behind the mask, Ruppert’s a romantic like all goths, sounding heart-broken, on the verge of tears. By the halfway mark, doubts start to creep in: the trembling voice is more a sign of technical weakness than emotional vulnerability, and you almost wish he’d cover it up with effects, like Blank Dogs.
Disappointingly, the Danilova-sung tracks add little, and none are duets; in fact, her (usually devastating) operatic voice is reined in, and either she lacks the subtlety to match Ruppert’s arrangements, or she seems to have been deployed to compensate for the weaker tunes. Stewart’s occasional backing murmurs (let’s not call them vocals) likewise leave you wanting more. Not that Stewart doesn’t add something: the nocturnal ambience and distant, unsettling sounds have his fingerprints all over them. In a sense, Danilova and Stewart are respecting the intended intimacy of the record, but this could have been so much more had they let themselves bring a dash of Zola Jesus and Xiu Xiu, rather than phoning in their parts.