Luis Vasquez, better known as The Soft Moon, has been honing his exceedingly dark crafts for some time now. Originally conceived as an atmospheric krautrock/post-punk project on his 2010 debut self-titled record, the Berliner-via-Oakland maestro has slowly morphed into a heavier, more industrial sound over his two intermittent records Zeros and Deeper to arrive at his latest and fourth record, Criminal. Thematically, Criminal may well be Vasquez's darkest yet as he explores the real-life abuse he suffered as a child in a dystopic sonic-formed long-player. The fourth Soft Moon record also sees Vasquez giving his vocals a more prominent role with the help of Italian producer Maurizio Baggio who also crafted previous record Deeper.
The clear and immediately noticeable trace of influence that makes up Criminal is Trent Reznor. This record quite clearly belongs in a lineage of 'industrial metal' that was made most famous by Nine Inch Nails in the late Eighties and early Nineties, however, this isn't to say that Vasquez is purely derivative or inconsequential in reviving the genre some 25 years later. Much of what makes The Downward Spiral a classic album to this day, for instance, above the bombastic and dramatic lyrics of tainted sex and self-loathing, is that record's incredible sound design. Here, Vasquez and Baggio have mastered a similar trick in making Criminal's sound, and further, feel, like a vital piece of work, which allows the album to stand on its own feet.
For instance, opener 'Burn' is a tremendous introductory firestorm into Vasquez's world, with a rip-roaring bass-line and a gothic guitar line, even if his vocals too somewhat resemble Reznor's in places too. There's an energy about Criminal right from the get-go that keeps it from being mere pastiche and into a memorable and enticing record. 'Choke' meanwhile is a brooding bone-rattler, evoking that deeply unsettled sense that refuses to let up for the entire running time.
The anger that Vasquez feels for his upbringing is palpable throughout the record, especially on faster barnstormers and unsubtly titled tracks such as 'Like A Father', 'The Pain' and 'Born Into This', which all tend to be lead by punishing drum samples and driving bass-lines. However, Vasquez also shows a more considered side to his ruminations on slower jams 'Give Something' and the title-track finale which builds to a particularly dramatic and impressive crescendo, before drifting out into space, like a defeated soul leaving its host.
Ultimately, this may well be Vasquez's most assured record to date as The (long promising) Soft Moon. He is an artist who with this act has been earmarked as a potential star in the indie universe, and this record gives him his best chance of achieving that yet. While there is still room for improvement i– the still clear Nine Inch Nails references somewhat prove that – Criminal will please both fans of the genre and intrigue potential newcomers, of which there will be plenty to this strange, niche genre.