Drab Majesty's Darkwave Peaks on 'Modern Mirror'

Photo courtesy of Dais Records

Still gothy after all these years, darkwave duo Drab Majesty's songwriting is catching up with their impeccable aesthetic on Modern Mirror.

Modern Mirror
Drab Majesty


12 July 2019

One rarely hears the term "aesthetic" bandied around as much as it is in reference to Drab Majesty. And the Los Angeles duo indeed has a well-defined one. The alter-egos, the androgyny, the makeup, leather, sunglasses, and inscrutability have all been carefully formulated, applied, and curated. And that doesn't even take into account the music, which is precisely the danger. Is form maintained at the expense of substance? When the image is so to the forefront, does it overshadow the art?

Drab Majesty's music is itself is an extension of the image, and vice-versa. They have an unmistakable, finely-sculpted sound. For those who love them, this is a major reason why—everything works together. Drab Majesty are their own world, and the music is a portal. For others, though, the aesthetic is more compelling than the music itself. The idea of Drab Majesty is more satisfying than the act of listing to one of their records from start to finish.

Strangely, Drab Majesty's music is instantly familiar and maybe even nostalgic. Yet upon further consideration, it doesn't sound just like anything else. That is because it is an idealized distillation of everyone who has been associated with the term "goth" to any extent over the last 40 years, along with a variety of synth-goth, goth-wave, and goth-gaze genres. And, despite some compelling singles, that distillation ultimately has been the most impressive aspect of their career thus far.

On their last album, The Demonstration, the Drab Majesty Sound was firmly established. A crystalline guitar arpeggio, chugging bass synth, followed by pounding drum machine complete with cheesy, space-laser toms. A couple of minor-key chords, Deb Demure's archly morose vocals, chorus with harder-chugging bass synth, leading to a feedback-washed denouement. For better and worse, that was the aesthetic -- or formula.

Perhaps due to the continued presence of producer Josh Eustis, that sound remains fundamentally the same on Modern Mirror. This is no departure or even a left turn down a darkened alley. Those synths, that guitar, the drum machine are all still at the forefront. So, cause for a black celebration among dedicated fans and here-we-go-again for everyone else? Not quite, actually.

Opening track "A Dialogue" begins with a wash of feedback. There's no synth-bass, no drum machine. It's just Demure falling into an abyss, repeating a single exchange: "Don't say you love / If I don't say I love who are you now?". Soon he is joined by bandmate Mona B in a fuguing style. The effect is powerful, and probably not what one was expecting.

The subsequent seven songs are more traditionally Drab. Crucially, though, they are more consistently better, stronger, and more confident than previous collections. There is nothing as powerfully crushing as "39 By Design" from The Demonstration, but there is some engaging melodicism, not to mention major keys (!), on the chorus of "The Other Side". And could that be the hint of a jangle and some sun breaking through the clouds on the melancholic, rather than doomy, closer "Out of Sequence"?

It isn't that Demure and Mona B have compromised their aesthetic at all. Rather, they seem to have realized the subversive power in allowing it to take on the guise of pop music. They certainly wouldn't be the first to do so, but it is a welcome turn no less.

Not that they have abandoned the darkness altogether. On the contrary, "Oxytocin", a gorgeously mournful love song without a chorus at all, is one of Modern Mirror's best moments. Even this is something of a small revelation, though, with Mona B taking on lead vocals and actually emoting, not to mention copping the best faux British accent since the first Ministry album.

Modern Mirror isn't without a couple worrying hints that the Drab Majesty aesthetic isn't immune to diminishing returns. "Noise of the Void" is an inferior revisiting of "39 By Design", with Demure courting self-parody when he repeats "It's the emptiness, the emptiness" as if he has a quota of despair to meet.

But even that doesn't stop Modern Mirror from being something Drab Majesty haven't accomplished before, which is an album that has no use for the "skip" button. It is a very good Drab Majesty album. More importantly, it is a very good album, too.






Of Purges and Prescience: On David France's LGBTQ Documentary, 'Welcome to Chechnya'

The ongoing persecution of LGBTQ individuals in Chechnya, or anywhere in the world, should come as no surprise, or "amazement". It's a motif undergirding the history of civil society that certain people will always be identified for extermination.


Padma Lakshmi's 'Taste the Nation' Questions What, Exactly, Is American Food

Can food alone undo centuries of anti-immigrant policies that are ingrained in the fabric of the American nation? Padma Lakshmi's Taste the Nation certainly tries.


Performing Race in James Whale's 'Show Boat'

There's a song performed in James Whale's musical, Show Boat, wherein race is revealed as a set of variegated and contradictory performances, signals to others, a manner of being seen and a manner of remaining hidden, and it isn't "Old Man River".


The Greyboy Allstars Rise Up to Help America Come Together with 'Como De Allstars'

If America could come together as one nation under a groove, Karl Denson & the Greyboy Allstars would be leading candidates of musical unity with their funky new album, Como De Allstars.


The Beatles' 'Help!' Redefined How Personal Popular Music Could Be 55 Years Ago

Help! is the record on which the Beatles really started to investigate just how much they could get away with. The album was released 55 years ago this week, and it's the kick-off to our new "All Things Reconsidered" series.


Porridge Radio's Mercury Prize-Nominated 'Every Bad' Is a Wonderful Epistemological Nightmare

With Every Bad, Porridge Radio seduce us with the vulnerability and existential confusion of Dana Margolin's deathly beautiful lyricism interweaved with alluring pop melodies.


​​Beyoncé's 'Black Is King' Builds Identity From Afrofuturism

Beyoncé's Black Is King's reliance on Afrofuturism recuperates the film from Disney's clutches while reclaiming Black excellence.

Reading Pandemics

Colonial Pandemics and Indigenous Futurism in Louise Erdrich and Gerald Vizenor

From a non-Native perspective, COVID-19 may be experienced as an unexpected and unprecedented catastrophe. Yet from a Native perspective, this current catastrophe links to a longer history that is synonymous with European colonization.


John Fullbright Salutes Leon Russell with "If the Shoe Fits" (premiere + interview)

John Fullbright and other Tulsa musicians decamped to Leon Russell's defunct studio for a four-day session that's a tribute to Dwight Twilley, Hoyt Axton, the Gap Band and more. Hear Fullbright's take on Russell's "If The Shoe Fits".


Roots Rocker Webb Wilder Shares a "Night Without Love" (premiere + interview)

Veteran roots rocker Webb Wilder turns back the hands of time on an old favorite of his with "Night Without Love".


The 10 Best Films of Sir Alan Parker

Here are 10 reasons to mourn the passing of one of England's most interesting directors, Sir Alan Parker.


July Talk Transform on 'Pray for It'

On Pray for It, Canadian alt-poppers July Talk show they understand the complex dualities that make up our lives.


With 'Articulation' Rival Consoles Goes Back to the Drawing Board

London producer Rival Consoles uses unorthodox approaches on his latest record, Articulation, resulting in a stunning, beautiful collection.


Paranoia Goes Viral in 'She Dies Tomorrow'

Amy Seimetz's thriller, She Dies Tomorrow, is visually dazzling and pulsating with menace -- until the color fades.


MetalMatters: July 2020 - Back on Track

In a busy and exciting month for metal, Boris arrive in rejuvenated fashion, Imperial Triumphant continue to impress with their forward-thinking black metal, and death metal masters Defeated Sanity and Lantern return with a vengeance.


Isabel Wilkerson's 'Caste' Reveals the Other Kind of American Exceptionalism

By comparing the American race-based class system to that of India and Nazi Germany, Isabel Wilkerson makes us see a familiar evil in a different light with her latest work, Caste.


Anna Kerrigan Prioritizes Substance Over Style in 'Cowboys'

Anna Kerrigan talks with PopMatters about her latest film, Cowboys, which deviates from the common "issues style" approach to LGBTQ characters.


John Fusco and the X-Road Riders Get Funky with "It Takes a Man" (premiere + interview)

Screenwriter and musician John Fusco pens a soulful anti-street fighting man song, "It Takes a Man". "As a trained fighter, one of the greatest lessons I have ever learned is to walk away from a fight without letting ego get the best of you."

Collapse Expand Reviews

Collapse Expand Features
PM Picks
Collapse Expand Pm Picks

© 1999-2020 All rights reserved.
PopMatters is wholly independent, women-owned and operated.