Luis Vasquez's world of post-punk is a cold and distant one. His past work has conveyed a sense of isolation, where he stood alone, hiding in the shadows. His latest record amplifies these elements — there's still an element of detachment between Vasquez and the listener, but it hits harder and with more power.
One of the key aspects of the Soft Moon's work is its rhythmic pulse. Vasquez has proven that he has an ear for atmospheres and textures, but the constant forward motion is what keeps these tracks intact. Think of the aptly-named "Repetition," from 2011's Total Decay, or the title track from 2012's Zeros. Vasquez throws seemingly random flourishes all over these tracks, but the constant, steady pulse keeps the track from imploding. Neu! would be proud.
On Criminal, the rhythmic backbone is no longer the main focus — it's just another element in the mix. On tracks like "ILL," Vasquez hits us with a deep-fried wall of synths, reminding us that his love for industrial rock is just as big as his love for vintage post-punk. He's using his own voice more, as heard on tracks like "Give Something" and "Young." Both these songs lack the rhythmic drive, and sound more like the Knife than Joy Division, with their haunting processed vocals and icy synth textures.
Since his 2010 debut, Vasquez has slowly but surely built up the Soft Moon from its beginnings as a venue for his goth-y post-punk experiments to the distinct creation it is now. Most of the risks he takes on Criminal pay off, and the record is among his most confident statements as an artist. (Sacred Bones)