Beyond enjoying so much of what's coming out of South America, I'm always surprised at what genres they're tackling. Sure, they're shining in prog and thrash, but they're not location-specific. It's when a band records Celtic rock or Viking metal that I really start to wonder, but the results have been stellar and I eagerly seek the next surprise. And here it is, because the beach city of Fortaleza, on the north-eastern shores of Brazil, isn't where I'd generally expect a darkwave band to do their thing.
However, Plastique Noir have been strutting their stuff in the Brazilian underground for fifteen years now and this is their fourth album, six years after 24 Hours Awake. As such, I shouldn't be too shocked to discover that they could play the Whitby Goth Festival without anyone noticing that they're from a little further afield. The singing voice of Airton S. suggests that they may not even be able to tell from inter-song banter. He's very much in the Peter Murphy vein.
While I'm far from the world's greatest expert on this genre, the sound is very old school English goth, grounded in new wave pop but draped in darkness and with an electronic edge that's not only there in the beats from the inevitable drum machine but in the atmospheric overlay. Songs like Times feel like they're draped in fog as much as darkness. This is upbeat darkwave dance music rather than a descent into doom and it's hard not to move to it, especially when the driving grooves get under your skin, like on Asleep in the Night Train. Sometimes it's downright perky, if mostly because of the jangly guitar of Danyel Fernandes. Again, Bauhaus spring quickly to mind rather than, say, U2.
The point at which the album lightens up a bit is Scrying Your Soul at the beginning of the second half. It's the poppiest song up to this point, the closest thing to pure new wave (and stays as such until All Cats Shall Celebrate), but it's slower than everything else too, with a clear sense of melancholy in its introspective piano. It has a drive to it, but it aims for atmosphere more than the emphatic Sisters of Mercy groove that drove some of the earlier songs. It also has plenty of time to breathe, because it's easily the longest song here. Everything else sits in the traditional three to five minute range, but this one's a comfortable seven and a half.
It still resembles Bauhaus, but there are points where the vocal approach seems almost like Billy Idol was stepping in and trying to be Peter Murphy, and the very prominent bass is right out of the Peter Hook songbook. And, as the album ran on from there, I started to hear those influences even more. It could be said that Upper Waves is Scrying Your Soul condensed into under four minutes. It's perkier in that Billy Idol sort of way and that Joy Division lead bass of Deivyson Teixeira is suddenly unmissable, the guitar shifted to atmosphere generation.
Another oddity to note that's surely more of a reflection on me rather than the band is that there are a couple of songs late on, Kafé and Catedrais em Chamas, which are sung in Portuguese instead of English, but that shifted the songs in my mind firmly onto the continent, so bizarrely making them sound as if they had harder edges like the Germans tend to go with. I think that's unfair and it's just in my brain because Portuguese isn't remotely similar to German, but I couldn't unhear it.
It still seems strange and unusual for a darkwave band clearly primarily influenced by old school Brits like Bauhaus and Joy Division to be from an equatorial beach town in Brazil, but they sound very good to me. Whether they're upbeat and driving, like on Asleep in the Night Train or Manifesto, or slow and atmospheric like on Scrying Your Soul, they'd fit perfectly in and among all the usual suspects at any goth night anywhere and surely prompt some audience members to ask the DJ who they are. I certainly would.