Brooklyn-based post-punk/dream pop quartet the Harrow distills 35 years of musical history into a cohesive whole on their debut album Silhouettes, a shimmery collection of moon-kissed midnight music. Although Silhouettes can be stylistically traced to the golden era of atmospheric post-punk (bands like Section 25, Modern Eon and the Sound come to mind), its more immediate predecessors are the electronic/shoegaze bands of the ‘90s, particularly Curve, Cranes, the Hope Blister, Portishead and My Bloody Valentine. That’s not to say that the Harrow is completely beholden to its influences — this is no cheap Cure, Slowdive or Siouxsie & the Banshees knockoff. The Harrow operates in a universe that may seem familiar but they’ve staked out their own dark sonic territory. Silhouettes is richly cinematic, nuanced and haunted headphone music that rewards repeated listens
Vanessa Irena’s striking vocals, swathed in shadow and ice, are perfectly suited for these 10 hymns from beyond the void. Her voice is often reminiscent of Elizabeth Fraser’s stunning turn on This Mortal Coil’s “Song to the Siren”. Greg Fasolino (formerly of the Naked and the Dead and Bell Hollow, whose 2007 album Foxgloves is an absolutely essential listen) adds mournful layers of guitar, laden with reverb and effects. Frank Deserto (bass, synths, and programming) and Barrett Hiatt (synths and programming), both formerly of Revel Hotel, round out the lineup and help build the arresting soundscapes and textures that swirl around Irena’s gauzy lamentations.
The album opens with the 90-second instrumental “We Run”, like the first faint wisps of a melancholy dream. It fades into the beautifully spectral “Love Like Shadows”, a track built on a pulsing electronic heartbeat, chiming guitars and synths. “Darling” is riven with anxiety — a jittery rhythm, Deserto’s driving bass line, Fasolino’s churning guitar riff, and Irena’s opaque vocals furtively crossing the barrier from a remote netherworld.
Much more immediate and direct is “Feral Haze”, a spiky and restless bit of synth-driven new wave with a spoken-word vocal that sounds like Robyn in dire need of a Prozac infusion. It demands to be blasted over club speakers at 3:00 a.m. when the crowd has crossed the line into exhausted delirium but are too entranced (or lost in a chemical haze) to stop dancing. “Chandeliers” is an edgy rocker with a rock solid beat that’s buffeted by a slithery line of reverbed guitar and overlapping bits of electronic percussion that brings to mind the frantic steps of a millipede scurrying across a hard metal surface amplified a thousandfold.
“Pale Embers” is a ghostly and austere instrumental of layered synths and eerie effects that could be one of Bowie’s ambient pieces from Low injected with just a bit too much Propofol into its electrical circuit. The frosty “Kaleidoscope” follows, all rumbling bass, echoey strands of guitar and galloping rhythm. It’s one of the album’s strongest tracks, thanks especially to a particularly beguiling vocal by Irena and one of the album’s more adventurous musical arrangements.
The taut and urgent “When the Pendulum Swings” brings to mind the fidgety textures of Thom Yorke’s solo album The Eraser. The bassline, synths and guitar all work as countermelodies that are like an interlocking puzzle, building dramatic intensity as it winds to its manic conclusion. The uneasy and strangely beautiful “Secret Language” is built on a heavy back-beat in the center of surreal aural effects, glacial synths, and a luminous vocal by Irena. The album closes with the epic “White Nile”, a trance-like piece that feels like a celestial dirge, the sacred music of an alien world floating deeper and deeper into space, shrouded in a perpetually icy fog that courses through the night like a harbinger of doom.
Silhouettes plays like the soundtrack to a gothic space tragedy. It’s dreamy, elegiac, lovely and often unsettling. Vanessa Irena’s wraithelike vocals are as hypnotic and enticing as an alien siren who sings you to sleep with a deeply melancholy beauty and more than a hint of danger. Her bandmates create a richly textured dark sonic world through which Irena’s vocals drift and sway with an ominous sensuality. There’s a mystical allure to Silhouettes that’s impossible to deny. The Harrow grips tight the flickering torch of their influences, but transforms the sounds in their heads to a vibe that’s distinct and beholden to nobody. Wait until all is quiet and dark; slip on your headphones, lay back, get your head in the right space for rapid expansion whether through a sip or three of wine, a midnight toke, or simply through clearing all other noise or thoughts from your consciousness. Slide on Silhouettes, and float on a shadowy journey to wherever it is that phantoms go when their earthly shackles have finally crumbled to dust.