Spacemoth is the stage name of musician and producer Maryam Qudus. Her debut album, No Past No Future, is a smorgasbord of synth-oriented indie-pop sounds. She covers a lot of musical ground on the record while retaining a core style.
It begins with “Mind Modulation”, a brief 22 seconds that sounds like someone fast-forwarding a CD through on “Intro” mode or quickly flipping through radio stations. That’s quickly followed by the feeling of landing on solid ground when the drumbeat to “This Shit” kicks in immediately afterward. A simple, buzzing low-end synth riff snaps together with the beat and is contrasted by Qudus’ soft, higher vocals. The catchy chorus, where Qudus wonders, “When is this shit / Gonna end?” gives the song a real hook, but otherwise, the track is straightforward. The main synth riff and drumbeat are all that drive the verses, while a couple of other layers of synth effects accompany the chorus. That’s all there is to it, but it works.
“Pipe and Pistol” works similarly with a basic drumbeat and a simple synth riff driving the bulk of the song. Qudus sings sweetly through the verses, and instead of a chorus, there’s a contrasting section where the synths drop out, and it’s just vocals and drums. This song has a bridge with layers of wordless vocals and new synth lines over the same beat. Then there’s a “here’s everything at once” climax. “Pipe and Pistol” is similar stylistically to “This Shit”, but enough is going on that it doesn’t feel like a rehash.
Qudus is a savvy enough producer to know it’s time for a change, so “UFObird” is slower and noticeably weirder. Synth noises oscillate and swoop strangely through the background while easygoing drums, bass, and guitar play what’s essentially a country ballad without the twang. Throughout No Past No Future, Qudus often puts the vocals on the same level or a bit quieter than the other instruments. That makes her singing feel like just another color in the musical palette instead of the thing the listener should be focused on. It also means that her lyrics rarely stand out, although here she repeats “Rescue us from ourselves” enough to make it memorable.
Spacemoth makes stylistic swerves in a couple of other places on No Past No Future. “Noise of Everyday Life” has driving synth drums and a big, throbbing synth bassline. It’s an upbeat track that falls somewhere in between 1980s acts like New Order and early Depeche Mode and the sensibilities of LCD Soundsystem. “LOTF” has a laid-back, slightly tropical vibe but also includes a fuzzed-out guitar solo. “Berries and Watch You Cry” foregrounds a pair of guitars. One strums incessantly while the other plays a riff that swirls, panning across the speakers or from ear to ear. Synths mainly provide white noise while Qudus softly chants, “We ate berries / And watched you cry.”
As for the core sound, “Round in Loops” is another example of how basic song construction sometimes works well. The first part is driven by an elementary kick and snare drum beat. It employs a guitar riff that bounces back and forth between two notes. There is also a layer of buzzing synth noise overlaid on everything that abruptly disappears when a second guitar enters later in the track. This very simple arrangement choice alters the entire feel of the song without actually changing very much at all.
“If I Close My Eyes and Pretend” begins with a fakeout, briefly employing huge echoing drums before immediately contracting into much smaller, compressed synth drum sounds. Still, it has a catchy synth line that feels like it’s rotating and the song puts Qudus’ vocals front and center, making for a pleasant auditory change.
“No Past No Future” also uses 1980s-style synth tones. One is a low, laser beam-like sound, while the other is a not-quite-there piano patch that doubles the vocal melody. Uncharacteristically, the track eschews snare drum sounds in favor of toms, giving it a sparser, more open feel. At nearly five minutes long, Qudus allows this song to build slowly, adding on more elements as it goes. Another synth shows up, then guitars, and finally, a group of backing vocals. It’s a nice change to finish No Past No Future with a song that feels like it’s heading somewhere instead of dropping all the hooks on the listener immediately.
No Past No Future is a solid debut. Qudus has a good ear for catchy, simple hooks and can build effective songs around those hooks. The best tracks here, though, are the ones where she can work two or three different catchy bits into the same song. That only happens a handful of times on the album, and they turn out to be the most memorable tracks. Hopefully, there’s more of that in Spacemoth’s future. For folks who enjoy synthy indie-pop, this record is worth a listen.