Ray Creature, ‘S/T’

Posted by on August 22, 2014


Sister Cylinder, 6/17/2014

Sprung from an unlikely seeming habitat for quality dark wave, Bloomington, Indiana’s Ray Creature craft some seriously dark and startling synth pop. Though I previously thought the genre’s greatest achievements were limited to the UK and Europe alone — even in its ’80s heyday, only early Ministry and Psyche seemed up to par with what was happening overseas — Ray Creature have seriously altered my preconceptions. Started as a side project by Jon Eric Booth, while his other band LEGS grew relatively quiet in 2013, Ray Creature eventually expanded into a duo, Booth with Natascha Buehnerkemper, with their debut self-titled album out on local label Syster Cylinder.

Stylistically, their sound is hard to pin down, but it’s not a stretch at all to imagine this band existing in the mid-80s, touring with the likes of Soft Cell or Depeche Mode. Booth’s vocals sound like some mad cross between the whispered hiccups of Alan Vega and, of all things, the baritone of Elvis Presley. Musically, their sound is a bit of a hodgepodge as well. There’s a dance-ability inherent in the bowels of what they do — “White Suits”, for instance, could have easily been found on Black Celebration, with a little tweaking — but there’s a rebellious experimental streak to them as well, championing the German martial sounds of DAF and Palais Schaumburg.

The most pleasantly surprising song here is “Burning Alive”, the clear winner for award for best pop single on the album. One of the things I love most about synth pop and synthesizers in general is the capacity for manipulation and the ability to tweak and tune the sound of the synths until the sound is so right it cuts right through you like a knife. OMD’s “Souvenir” and Pet Shop Boys “Suburbia” have always been examples to me of where they got everything right, and “Burning Alive” is no exception.

The sound of the synths and the melody introduced by them, the constant, pulsating rhythms, and the sinister laughs hiding within Booth’s vocals as he recites the songs dark lyrics — everything is just perfect and sitting here, thinking and writing about it makes me overwhelmingly excited. It’s a classic pop hit unfortunately a few decades too late.

“Burning Alive” certainly sticks out, but there are a lot of other bright moments throughout the album. However, the strength of this album lies not in its individual components but of the piece as a whole. It isn’t necessarily an album meant or intended to be broken up and separated but instead to be delved into in the dark of your candlelit room, and allow its gloomy atmosphere to enclose over you. Some songs may even sound somewhat weak on their own, but together this album is one strong statement that becomes a part of you.

Ray Creature is about as ambitious as a debut album can get, while stately and restrained in every detail down to its elegant album cover, but the truly remarkable thing is that for all of its aspirations, it succeeds on nearly every front. It’s simultaneously a love song to the electronica of years gone by and its own, self-sufficient creation.