I don’t know about you, but life has been a little crazy for me. Still, there’s always time for some good tunes, especially if you’re looking for a distraction or something to vibe with, and today we’re bringing you an album that’s got vibes to spare. Fotocrime’s sophomore release South of Heaven is a post-punk workout, with dark grooves that breed as much introspection as they do ass-shaking. This is Rainbows in the Dark, featuring the best of all things sort of metal and metal-adjacent.
Fotocrime is the brainchild of the singer/songwriter/multi-instrumentalist/producer simply known as R. (Ryan Patterson, formerly of punk band Coliseum), although on South of Heaven he is joined by a long list of guest musicians alongside producer and frequent collaborator J. Robbins to flesh out the sound on the album, recorded in part by my hometown hero, the absolute legend Steve Albini. Anyone remotely familiar with Albini’s work can smell his touch a mile away, and it really shows here. This is obviously a meticulously recorded and produced album, with crisp, clean textures and deep atmosphere. There’s plenty of moody synth work and throbbing bass that recalls the more gothic sensibilities of Depeche Mode or Sisters of Mercy, jangly, angular guitar lines that weave with the flavor of New Order, and the danceability of more upbeat forerunners like The Cure and Joy Division. What really makes this album stand out is that it is something more than just the sum of its influences. There’s a little bit of everything here, but the way the parts are put together doesn’t seem like a simple copy/paste job. There’s a thoughtfulness to the songwriting that invokes a deeper vision, beyond just making a love letter to one’s predecessors. R. describes this as “deeply personal” and “an exposed nerve,” and it shows in the honest and heartfelt lyrics, which range in theme from personal stories to Greek mythology to the lives of Francis Bacon and Bruno Ganz.
The thing I think I like best about South of Heaven is that every track seems to have some aspect of it that makes it distinct from the others without compromising the overall aesthetic of the album as a whole. “Love is the Devil” features a twisting, punky guitar line that runs through the whole song and weaves effortlessly in and out of the pulsing bassline as a backdrop to R.’s wails and lamentations on love and loss. The four-on-the-floor drumbeat of “Blue Smoke,” combined with the almost surf guitar flair and ethereal backing vocals hearken back to street punk and old school rock and roll. Opening track “Invisible” takes things a little slower, with a huge drum sound and sparse instrumentation that let R.’s vocals carry the mood. “Foto on Wire” is probably the most aggressive song on the album, with a very grungy Rage Against the Machine-esque guitar motif that drips with Steve Albini’s personal touch. Centerpiece “Hold Me in the Night” is a gentle, more subtle track that captures a very intimate sense of yearning thanks to gentle synth washes, quiet electronic percussion and even some harp melodies.
While Slayer’s 1988 slammer of the same title may be more well known, this is an album that deserves its own bit of recognition. In the same way that Slayer showed more variety on their South of Heaven, Fotocrime branch out in the same way and show that they are no one-trick-pony, nor are they simply rehashing old ideas. This is an album that takes familiar, beloved influences and twists them into something that feels contemporary and fresh. According to R., “This is a record for late night drives, a soundtrack for headlights illuminating the horizon.” I’ll be driving around with this one for a while to come.