SONIC REDUCER Thrills and chills and disco ball spills that's what the Horrors are made of? After Shih Tzu-banged frontman Faris Badwan brattily ripped the mirror ball off the ceiling of 330 Ritch a scant two years ago, who knew the U.K. band would show its true, formative, and fundamentally curious colors? The hues and cries streaming off the Horrors' second album, Primary Colours (XL) read as a limpid, moonlit pop-sonnet to true-school proto-goth-rockers and morbidly fixated post-punk upsetters like Siouxsie and the Banshees and Killing Joke.
Just don't flash that dance-floor orb in front of Badwan again. "Mmm, Faris never really liked mirror balls," mumbles guitarist Joshua Third, né Hayward. It's frozen in Boston, where the group is performing that night, and the chill that drops momentarily over the conversation is brief yet bracing. "Luckily we haven't played anywhere with a mirror ball for ages."
Despite the menace or maybe because of it the goth-punk movement has always seemed fundamentally conservative. But the Horrors don't peddle the shockabilly moves so common among goth-identified SoCalis. In contrast to the easy-sleazy comic-book corn of today's prominent goth-punk purveyors pass the Horrorpops and just keep walking the group now draws from exploratory originators Joy Division and ornery rabble-rousers the Birthday Party. Primary Colours boasts driving tunes carved from silvery synth textures ("Three Decades") and Jesus and Mary Chain-like buzz-saw pop that thumps with creative negativity ("Who Can Say").
The group capers on the same frosty darkling plain as Interpol, judging from tunes like the Velvet-y, string-strewn "I Only Think of You," which may turn off those with a low tolerance for pop pomposity. Still, the opening track, "Mirror's Image," sets the tone for pleasing surprise with its initial lush, plangent soundscape more akin to Lindstrøm than Sisters of Mercy before gently plunging into spiraling reverb, effects-gristled guitar, and a nodding keyboard fragment that will have some recalling Echo and the Bunnymen and others Kraftwerk.
Third says Primary Colours was "the first chance we had as a band to shut ourselves away and work on the record on our own. We'd retreat into a rehearsal space and get completely lost in it. Yeah, I think that really comes through."
The Horrors titled the first song they ever wrote "Sheena is a Parasite," so yes, this is throwback rock, It gazes directly into the eyes of the more serious Anglo art-rock makers of the '80s with self-conscious affection, especially on haunted, haunting songs such as "Do You Remember." And what's wrong with that?
"We actually made a record that's a complete trip, from start to finish it takes you through different moods," Third explains. "Also, you can listen to it on repeat, because the last track plays into the first track. I've always been quite into the idea because I like to sit down and listen to things over and over again." It's a quality he misses in many new albums. "Yeah, partly the Internet's to blame. Partly labels are to blame.