Even though it seemed like the Soft Moon's Luis Vasquez hit bottom on Deeper, he finds an even lower level on Criminal. On his Sacred Bones debut, he confronts his abusive childhood, his absent father, and how his lingering trauma echoes in his life. Reunited with producer Maurizio Baggio, Vasquez's songs are darker and harsher than ever before; Deeper's confessions felt like an outpouring, but this time they border on invasive. Fittingly, Vasquez and Baggio head further into industrial/EBM territory -- styles where self-loathing and anguish go hand in black-leather glove -- and set songs about death wishes and the monsters within to rhythms that lunge and stab. "It Kills," a hybrid of dour post-punk and abrasive industrial, is quintessential Soft Moon. While caustic songs like this hark back to Zeros as well as Deeper, Criminal also bears more than a passing resemblance to Nine Inch Nails on the grinding "Young" and "Burn," where Vasquez sings "I wish I could be somebody else/'Cause it burns" over pummeling rhythms and punishing distortion. Elsewhere, he builds on his previous album's doomy ballads with the pitch-black despair of "Give Something" and "The Pain," a collision of spiraling guitars and relentless beats that echoes the self-hatred of its lyrics ("How can you love someone like me?"). While the Soft Moon's sound coalesced on Deeper, it's still far from predictable. Even on the frenzied "Born into This," there's a murk to Vasquez's version of industrial that sets it apart. On "Choke," an excellent expression of numbing hedonism, the massive, sleazy synth-bass might be expected, but the bongos and cooing vocals are not. Vasquez matches Criminal's blunt sounds with more direct songwriting as he connects the crimes he committed and the crimes committed against him, summing up his brokenness on the title track and holding his dad accountable on "Like a Father" ("You're the ghost of my problem"). There are no easy answers or happy endings here; as Vasquez grows more skilled at expressing his pain, he delivers his bleakest -- and most cohesive -- music yet.
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AllMusic Review by Heather Phares