From a quick glance at the cover of this album, it would seem that Jonn Gauntletier (half of Pass/ages and a third of the defunct Ars Phoenix) had delved in the world of power electronics. The blown out, high contrast pic of him (in color on the CD version), mic in hand, leaning over a table of electronic gear gives off these vibes, but that is completely incorrect. Instead, the title Horrorpop is the true indicator, being an album of songs that blur the lines between horror movie ambience/soundtrack and straight ahead synth pop. Considering how well he navigates the two genres without falling into clich√© (I would not describe any of these as being "synthwave" nor blatant John Carpenter emulation), the final product is one of excellent depth and complexity, but propelled by infectious rhythms and brilliant melodies.
I have always appreciated in all of Gauntletier's projects how he brings in just the right amount of grime to his otherwise intricate productions, making for an amazing sense of depth while never becoming too polished or unnatural.That was true for Ars Phoenix, for Pass/Ages, and certainly here.Right from the onset of opener "Pure Horror" this is true:ghostly, decrepit loops are paired with bass passages to give a raw, slightly noise tinged sensibility, before he carefully fleshes the song out with a rigid drum machine, ghostly synths, and heavily echoed vocals.
He works from a similar template on "No Exit," initially a blend of nuanced synth sequences peppered with distorted, buzzing surges of sound to disrupt everything effortlessly.It builds into a slow lurch, with up front vocals and a mix that balances the noisy with the poppy, before eventually solidifying into a more straight ahead synth pop approach.On "The Grimmest Dawn" he continues that slow trudge approach, melded with droning foghorn electronics and bleak, shimmering layers.His clean, up front Bass VI playing is what keeps everything on a pleasantly melodic track that is only enhanced by the darker moments.
At times on Horrorpop, some influences (either directly or indirectly) begin to emerge.I felt some definite hints of early period Skinny Puppy throughout "Cloak and Dagger" via the percolating synths, snappy drum programming, and the heavy reverb and processing on Gauntetier's vocals just solidified this.The pulsating acid synths and 4/4 thump of "Limber For the End Times" molded into a catchy pop song on the surface but dark and dense below clearly called to mind some 1980s EBM works.For "Ghosts in the Drum Machine," the synth pop elements are at the forefront, complete with stiff drum machines and the DX7 Tubular Bell preset.Add in some catchy leads and lyrics about surveillance and (reasonable) paranoia, and there are clearly traces of Virgin era Cabaret Voltaire to be heard.
With both Ars Phoenix and Pass/Ages, Jonn Gauntletier has proven himself to expertly weave memorable pop songs out of bleak electronics and morose guitar work, and that continues to be the case on this tape.The horror part of Horrorpop is what gives this work a distinct quality in comparison, and that sinister sheen throughout is worked in skillfully.Stripped of the sequences, beats, and guitar work, there is a hell of a dark ambient record to be had, but by adding in the pop half of the album‚Äôs title, he ends up responsible for a perfect balance of bleak and catchy from start to finish.