Those bittersweetly in favor of reformed goths The Horrors’ new post-punk direction might be wise to seek refuge in S.C.U.M. No need to cry, glum ones; slump back and allow the startlingly mature sounds on S.C.U.M.‘s debut, Again Into Eyes, to deliver you from an indie rock climate currently enamored with the past’s lighter tones. True, S.C.U.M.‘s image is irritatingly fashionable and aspects of the band can come across as laughably pretentious, but S.C.U.M. has a chorus of respectable collaborators on their side who are laughing right back.
Before focusing on the worth of S.C.U.M.‘s music, a few words must be spent on the band’s image. At least three members of the five-piece appear to be Muppet Baby versions of respectable rock caricatures, with bassist Huw Webb (brother of Horrors bassist Rhys) standing in as the Muppet Baby edition of The Birthday Party’s Rowland S Howard to lead singer Thomas Cohen’s baby Nick Cave, with a drummer, Melissa Rigby, handling her instrument like The Velvet Underground’s Mo Tucker on training wheels. A band having a signature look is nothing in the least bit new, but when dealing in sounds as easy to deride as goth, one must be careful. That the band is based out of Southeast London creates extra danger, as often times it’s easier to dismiss London and New York City bands—especially in this era—as all style, no substance.
Thankfully, Again Into Eyes dismisses this adage. The album opens with the surprisingly uplifting “Faith Unfolds,” then dives right into “Days Untrue”, two songs that are blindingly synthy, with only one (the former) copping to gothisms with the phrase “a stained-glass tear.” First single “Amber Hands” has something of “Needle in the Camel’s Eye” by Brian Eno about it, but manages to overcome any similarities and be its own thing, thanks in part to Cohen’s foppish vocals. At times throughout Again Into Eyes, Cohen’s vocals come close to matching those of Suede’s Brett Anderson in the “too drugged on ego to sing” category. This makes it difficult to actually understand what Cohen is singing most of the time, but based on the odd lyrics that can be comprehended, this comes as a blessing. Other times, as on “Paris,” Cohen ventures into somber (and vaguely more articulate) Nick Cave territory; that Cohen lacks the lived-in quality of Cave’s voice proves advantageous, as it saves the song from becoming overly derivative.
“Paris” is one of a few truly beautiful tracks on Again Into Eyes. The songs that precede it, “Sentinal Bloom” and “Requiem,” capture the shimmery transcendence that only the best goth rockers and shoe gazers can achieve. S.C.U.M. are perhaps most adept at taking the brightest bits of what is often considered dark music and magnifying them. The ambient touches applied to these songs are another impressive flourish. When Again Into Eyes really shines, it becomes obvious why so many credible artists and producers have agreed to offer their services: the album was produced by Ken and Jolyon Thomas, who have worked with David Bowie and Sigur Ros, the video for glam-goth album closer “Whitechapel” was directed by artists Tim Noble and Sue Webster, and the band has toured with label mates The Liars, among others.
For an album that runs a high risk coming off as a grand tour of goth’s past, S.C.U.M. has succeeded miraculously well in trumping the naysayers. It’s unfair to repeatedly compare S.C.U.M. to The Horrors, but that Again Into Eyes is on par with The Horrors’ sophomore release Primary Colours is a very hopeful sign. If S.C.U.M. keep maintaining their ambient goth sound and perhaps begin to look a little less silly, Cohen and co. could become saviors of both the light and dark sides of modern indie music.