From the Northwest corner something wicked this way comes. In this case it’s the third album from RxGF, a darkwave band that dabbles in electro, industrial and trip-hop. The group’s dark and brooding vibe isn’t for everyone, but ringleader John Morgan Reilly and vocalist Angeline Schaaf have crafted a compelling sound that stands out from the fray.
RxGF apparently stands for “Radioactive X Girlfriend” and Schaaf owns the role with an ominous and urgent tone that makes it sound like Reilly plucked her out of a scene from a Philip K. Dick film or The Matrix. “Imagine the Superstar Destroyer, a monolithic and dirty old space ship several kilometers long lumbering through space at light speed. That’s the feel and the sound of many of these new songs. You have these dark electronic layers with huge drums and dirtied-up vocals. Nothing is clean. The circuitry still works but the protective coating has melted…the wiring is a bit charred up everywhere and that’s by design”, says Reilly in a press release. He adds, “I believe that what we’re doing here is innovative, and I’m excited to continue our deep space exploration with this sound.”
There is indeed an innovative sound happening here, with many tracks sounding like they came from the soundtrack of some dystopian sci-fi world or even just the dark Orwellian future that’s currently on Earth’s horizon right here in 2015. Reilly teams with co-producer Jonathan Plum (Pearl Jam, Alice in Chains, Blind Melon, Candlebox) to create a grungey sonic ambiance that permeates the album.
“Any Other Way” kicks it off with a mid-tempo track featuring cinematic synths and pounding rhythms as Schaaf establishes herself as a dark angel we want to know more of. She sounds sort of like a cross between Siouxsie Sioux and Alison Mosshart of the Dead Weather, an alluring yet troubled siren from another realm. She sings critically about the recording industry on “How to Make It”, making it clear she has no illusions about sunshine and swimming pools in LA.
The album shifts into hyper drive with “We Will Not Be Denied”, which features a faster beat and extra psychedelic guitar and synth lines. It sounds sort of like a darker, twisted version of Pat Benatar’s “Invincible” as Schaaf delivers a mesmerizing performance. “Flesh and Bone” continues in this vein, but with a less aggressive sound that perhaps recalls Depeche Mode. The energy level rises again with the swaggering synths of “Antidote”, where Schaaf delivers a more melodic tone. The song has more groove and feels like it could easily get the dance floor moving in a scene from the upcoming Bladerunner sequel.
“Tombstone Soiree” is another gem with an upbeat danceable groove, but still with the darker tone that RxGF is all about. Schaaf shines with a subtler light on the sultry “Never Felt So Good”, a downtempo tune with a hypnotic groove. But then the album downshifts, with Schaaf disappearing down the stretch in favor of more industrial tracks with male vocals and soundbites that can’t quite compare.
There’s some interesting radical content in tracks like “Things That Go Bang (False Flag Mix)”, the best of the tracks without Schaaf, which features political soundbites critical of America’s descent toward the Orwellian nightmare. But the second half of the album falls a bit flat without Schaaf’s enigmatic presence. She reappears for a moody ballad on the album’s last track, “Belladonna Dream (Verax Mix)”, sounding more like Tori Amos or Jessica Lea Mayfield.
It’s clear that Schaaf has wide range both vocally and creatively, so the sky’s the limit for her artistic future. Whether RxGF will be the best outlet for her remains to be seen, but the initial results are promising.