“One love from carriage to hearse / Till the end of time we’ll always be / The Outsiders.” Hallelujah and be still thy beating heart. If you’ve come looking for Mr and Mrs Apple Pie you’re in the wrong neighbourhood. This ‘ere’s a place for cracked hearts, pining spirits, disenfranchised dreamers and tear-stained, bruised bards. Graveyard Girls n’ Lost Boys with Lugosi eyes, translucent alabaster skin and an unhealthy penchant for noir. O Children of the night! Gather round the dark! IO Echo’s début Ministry of Love has been birthed… beneath an intoxicating incense ‘n’ ouiji haze! In a flickerin’ candlelit cavern, overlooking a tempestuous ocean, waves a-crashin’ and terrible storm a-strange brewin’!... OK it was likely recorded in some state-of-the-art, sunsoaked LA squillionaire swankpad, but you get the idea. Subtitle “Wild at heart, weird on top” and deliciously so.
But LA vampires Ioanna Gika and Leopold (brother of Trent Reznor’s soundtrack compadre Atticus) Ross don’t just conjure that classic ‘Vitamin D-challenged’ outsider’s soundtrack of vampire-vintage, basement Goth, but add a luscious lacing of Oriental colour to bring you… da da dah! [Flash of lightning] GEISHA GOTH! Yes, though they may occasionally despatch their Kimono and Obis to the drycleaners and slip back into their leathers, Ministry offers a fresh Far East foray for the more outgoing crypt kicker. Opener “Shanghai Girls” doesn’t exactly creep ,n’ crawl from the speakers Ringu-style, but more boots down the front door with its Ming Dynasty-marching phantom redux of Siouxsie & The Banshees’ “Hong Kong Garden”. “SHANGHAI! GIIIIRLS!” bellows Sorceress Gika as if commanding some underworld skeleton army to rise from their God-forsaken graves and storm the golden palace. A rousing, roaring crash ‘n’ clatter of percussion clawing forth a wave of spooky synths and twinklin’ UFO bleeps, it makes for a memorably dramatic “Konnichiwa”. “We’ve got the love superior!” and Echo’s freak flag is forcibly spiked into the bloody earth.
Granted a concept of Lost Boys 2: Lost in Translation sounds goofy and possibly pompous, yet it’s hard not to be spun by Ministry of Love’s wild winds, romantic rapture and—who knew?—delirious energy. Recent single “Where the Lilies Die” is a pure adrenalin rush. One dance-yourself-dizzy headbanger’s ball backbeat, a motivating gallery of infectious “OOH! AHH! AHH!” Shiryō shrieks and a bewitching, lost-in-music chorus that sounds uncannily like A Flock of Seagull’s “I Ran”. Now That’s What I Call Supernatural Vol#1! As throughout Gika stands serene in the eye of the hurricane, her evocative poetic musings delivered in a crisp, calm, delicate-as-butterfly wings, semi-“BBC World Service” tone.
Though Love may be the clandestine alchemy of nightcrawlers it mostly sizzles as a sharp, slyly subversive, alterna-pop record. “Tiananmen Square” jumps, hops and fizzes like a sweet, skipping sister of the Smiths’ “Ask”. “There are some monsters who think people exist!” gasps Gika matter of factly whilst stroking Bowie’s lost Stylophone and pounding her feet frantically to wake the giants from their slumber. Deceptively, disarmingly cute yet trojan horse smart, in an alternative world it’d be a daytime radio ubersmash. The bonkers hyperbass of “Draglove” is also a flashdancer. A feverish tale of ‘across-the-tracks’ romance it’s the manic clatter of a smiley, Pro-Plus’d-up Joy Division on a summer’s day. “You’re the boy I choose to love,” it decrees in a heady thrill of frenzied, passionate kisses. The aforementioned Oriental Opulence returns for the shufflin’ beats and Mantras of “Ecstasy Ghost”, which swoops by seductively in a vivacious flags ‘n’ ribbons carnival of poetry, perfume and pastels. “Four swans on a glacier made of velvet,” it demands surreally. Elsewhere, “The Outsiders” echoes the Cure at their dreamiest, most lovestruck. Tender at first, it blooms into arms-outstretched, bright-eyed, top o’ the mountain, triumphant euphoria. Even if it’s not quite as devastating as the slo-mo, ‘It’s alright Ma, I’m only bleeding’ version on last year’s introductory EP it still shines ‘n’ flickers celestial.
But there are softer moments on Ministry that bring more sombre, sparser shadowplay. “Stalemate” has the slow, steady drift of graveyard fog or swamp mist. Half asleep, half awake, hallucinatory, lost inbetween days. Caressed by slurring slide guitar, it’s a smoky, sensual, closer. “The next move is you / Play me / I’m begging you to.” The cyborg in black gloves chill of “Addicted” similarly crawls beneath the skin. The empty bottles ‘n’ overdosin’ twilight of “Berlin It’s All a Mess” is even more atmospheric and unnerving. A bad moon rising over an aching comedown, “They fear heights / But you’re wiser for your fall…In a moment soon I will hit the ground”. Wrapped in a blur of cobwebs it’s eerily frosty. The most magnificent melancholia though comes with the album’s fade. The lush, silky, folky flute sayonara of “Eye Father” finds Love parting with sweet sorrow. Driftwood or burial at sea, gently swallowed by the great beyond. “I will carry you / In my eyes” and somewhere an icy heart melts.
Ministry of Love is probably the kind of stuff cults are made of. Compelling, alluring, impeccably dressed, vivid in both colours and shade, rich with cryptic, curious poetry and plenty o’ sharp pop hooks to drag your daydreamer soul in deep. It’s definitely musical catnip for those who favour their pop “Creepy ‘n’ kooky, mysterious ‘n’ spooky”. Love may be borne from dark roots, but it’s a celebratory, cathartic record lit bright with feverish passion. “I don’t fear the sleep of death / I fear a life slept through,” it protests. Amen and hey, Kimonos are the new black.