Her Space Holiday's latest album is filled with orchestral, electro-pop songs so beautiful that it will take you a few listens to realize how depressing they are.
Marc Bianchi, the man behind Her Space Holiday, is a master of finding new ways to make clinical depression sound gorgeous. On The Past Presents the Future, Bianchi perfects his formula of spinning morose tales sprinkled with a few torturous moments of hope, while backing them up with a swirling combination of majestic strings that violently clash with the throbbing electronic beats that propel the songs. Perhaps spurred on by the work of the various artists and producers who successfully remodeled his previous album on The Young Machines Remixed, Bianchi experiments even more on the latest Her Space Holiday release, providing a somewhat more ambitious album that his previous albums.
It helps that Bianchi mocks his navel-gazing reputation in the darkly comic "Missed Medicine", where he lists his keys to success: "tell everyone you're clinically depressed", use all of your friends for songwriting material, "and if you're lucky enough to have a parent pass away" make sure to exploit the resulting grief by making a big show of it. Despite the self-deflating nature of "Missed Medicine", it might be the darkest song in the album as it suggests that Bianchi's channeling of his negative emotions into his music is less of a catharsis and more of a cheap form of self-exploitation. "1, 2, 3, it's easy as 1, 2, 3" he muses, in his breathy, overmedicated drone, in a surreal Jackson Five moment. (He also, brilliantly, steals the chorus to another classic pop song on "The Great Parade", where he twists George Harrison's most well known chorus into "Here comes your son / He isn't alright".)
Thankfully, The Past Presents the Future disavows any notion that Bianchi is simply trying to exchange his problems for credibility. The album is not characterized by the whining of the emo crowd or the theatrical angst of the grunge era. Her Space Holiday cools down the intensity of the emotional lyrics by contrasting them with the isolate but beautiful nature of his music. The elements in these songs act to disarm the despairing lyrics, from Bianchi's emotion-free voices, the stirring, unexpected string movements, and the songs' cold electronic pulse. So, on heavy songs like "The Weight of the World" (about the inability to find comfort in faith) or "Self Helpless" (a general cry of despair), the overpowering darkness of the lyrics is countered by a chilly beauty, suggesting that while the songs' narrators are facing some big depressing truths about life, they are also close to finding out what's beautiful about life (although perhaps so close and yet so far).
There's perhaps no song on the album more beautiful than "You and Me", a love song that allows Bianchi to fully indulge in his cinematic instincts, layering the song in swaths of strings and woodwinds in an overwhelming, baroque tidal wave of sound. Even here, as Bianchi sings along with peppy flute accompaniment, he manages to mix a little uncertainty with the reverie, noting that the "you" in question is on the precipice of "falling apart" and that their encounter will probably result in disappointment for at least one of the pair. Just as he adds a little bit of hope in his sad songs, he feels obligated to throw in a little gloominess into his happy ones.
Taking a total 180 from the topic of love comes "The Good People of Everywhere", a strange parable about a strange barker who instructs children to poison their parents in order to be free of responsibility and to create their own destiny. It goes awry, leaving the children starving and unable to live on their own, causing the barker to return by solving this problem with the same poisonous solution. By removing himself as the primary subject, Bianchi provides an even bleaker glance at life and the choices we make, using a spooky Ruby sample as an inscrutable Greek chorus, rendering the tale's moral with an overtly peppy message of joy: "there's nothing to do if you want to". True to Her Space Holiday fashion, the music is so sweet and catchy that I didn't even pick up on the song's diabolical underpinnings until the third listen or so.
There are a few throwaway numbers, perhaps most egregiously the "Providence" inspired noise-and-answering-machine-message composition "A Small Setback to the Great Comeback", but overall with The Past Presents the Future, Bianchi might have created his most consistent album under the Her Space Holiday moniker, solidifying his status and one of the most important figures on the indie electro-pop scene.