Phoenix, Arizona is not the kind of place I’d imagine an exciting electronic band calling home. I spent the night in Phoenix in March and I seem to remember the air smelling of flowers in blossom and the heat being just bearable enough to make me forget I was in the middle of a desert. It was a pleasant place, but not really the sort of area I’d imagine lending itself to a strong psychedelic or electronic music community. The brief period of friendly weather and good hospitality aside, I imagine Phoenix as more of a hub for bleak doom that bleaches the bones in the blazing sun. When visiting with Mallevs‘ debut, simply titled Mallevs, I was surprised to realize that these guys weren’t from a colder, more urban environment. Regardless of location, it’s clear that these guys have tapped into something very special.
From its earliest moments, Mallevs’ eponymous release has a darkness and driving force akin to riding a subway car alone, avoiding eye contact with any of the strangers who are likely harmless but seem so much more sinister in such an uncertain place. The album’s fusion of post-punk, darkwave, and even minimal industrial sits nicely with me, and I can’t quite place it in a particular camp although I’m sure that there are many folks out there who would enjoy this. The distant, disaffected vocals blend eerily with sparse yet urgent backdrops of fragile, mechanical percussion and reverb-soaked melodies. I’ve basically been unable to stop alternating between this album and collections of Sisters of Mercy demos from the early eighties, which is probably telling. Despite the decades separating the two, there’s an equivalent darkness that stands out from its peers. This isn’t typically gothy or synth-pop friendly. Instead, Mallevs is clearly doing something artistic and challenging while making use of familiar elements. Indeed, there’s a lot of variety for just one band and six songs. The deadpan emptiness of “Grave” leads into the upbeat (yet not remotely uplifting) sorrow of “In the Dark,” with its gritty bass (or is it bass synthesizer?) and call-and-response vocals sounding like a well executed fusion of Amesoeurs and A Place to Bury Strangers. The broad spectrum in which Mallevs works could be a hindrance to a less skilled group, yet this release never once feels like it is overstepping any boundaries and instead feels like a solid display of their skill.
Copies of this album should be going on sale from Gilgongo Records any day now, as the initial special edition pre-order has closed. I also recommend keeping an eye on discogs for their tape V.V.V.V.V. which was part of the Ascetic House January Program. It was my introduction to these folks and it’s quite impressive as well. For now, enjoy a sample of three of this album’s six songs and get ready to place your orders.