Luis Vasquez is haunted by visions of the apocalypse.
In fact, hes actually gotten used to the idea of looking out toward a barren, dystopian future. The songwriter and singer of the darkly atmospheric San Francisco post-punk act The Soft Moon, Vasquez has had these recurring nightmares for such a long time that theyve evolved into something strangely comforting and profound.
Ive gotten to the point where theyre not so much terrifying as they are almost kind of a relief, almost beautiful, Vasquez says. The last 10 or so dreams Ive had that were apocalyptic, there was lots of color. It was very overwhelming—you feel as if the world is much bigger than you.
Such strange visions have fed into The Soft Moons art since the release of the groups 2010 self-titled debut—one track on the album, When Its Over, was a dreamily beautiful dirge that revolved around the lyrical couplet I want to sail around the world / When its over. Meanwhile, the bands follow-up EP was titled Total Decay, just to give an idea of where many of The Soft Moons paths lead.
A similar theme pervades the bands recently released second full-length album, Zeros. In most of the songs, Vasquezs lyrics are droning, layered in effects and frequently indecipherable, used almost more like an instrument than a method of conveyance for any specific message. The albums chilly, claustrophobic vibe evokes a grim future, one thats all the more enigmatic by lyrical obscurity.
Zeros, Vasquez says, comes from an idea where the world had ended, and we have to sort of start from scratch. But theres nothing really plot-driven. Its mostly evoked and emotionally driven. The plot could just be me chasing demons. I tend to be developing more phobias, and theyve been getting more intense. So it evolved around that, too.
Bookended by the track It Ends and a companion piece called ?bn? ?I, Zeros is both futuristic in tone and retro in aesthetic. Each Soft Moon track is built on a heavy foundation of analog synthesizer buzz and distorted bass, frequently drawing parallels to artists in the 1980s cold-wave and darkwave movements—such as KaS Product and Dead Can Dance, who were notable for ethereal, frequently minimalist synth-based variations on post-punk.
Vasquez never sought to use either genre as a template—he says he never listened to much darkwave. However, one notable influence on Vasquez is The Cure, whose famously bleak albums Faith and Pornography are in the ballpark of the chilling atmosphere The Soft Moon aims for.
Yet more than attempt to mimic or capture the sound of any specific album or era, Vasquez places considerable importance on being in a particular headspace while writing music, one that enables him to perform a cathartic, almost therapeutic ritual of sorts.
Normally, I write in complete solitude, he says. Im trying to branch out more in the future, but its usually in solitude. A lot of the time Im playing the waiting game. Ill write when Im feeling energetic, or when Im depressed. And if Im on deadline, Ill force myself to get in the right headspace. Or Ill just get a six-pack—the buzz can help me to express certain things.
Sometimes Ill be bawling, crying—it gets very emotional at times, he continues. Theres a weight that gets lifted off my shoulders. And if I dont get that sort of feeling, or at least try to, it usually doesnt make the cut.
Vasquezs atypical methods, unsurprisingly, lead to fairly unconventional pop music. His songs have beats, melodies and verses—even hooks. However, youll never hear a Soft Moon track ascend to a climactic chorus or break down into a sing-along coda. Much in the way Vasquezs vocals are embedded into the scenery of his arrangements, the songs themselves behave more like mood pieces, albeit with a bit more buzz and groove to them. The songs arent about hooks so much as atmosphere, each track building into a dense fog of synth grooves and ambient haze; the darkness and abstraction create a visceral intensity that you dont always hear in more traditional pop songwriting.
Yet even if he entertained the idea of writing songs that fit a standard verse-chorus-verse format, Vasquez says its just not in him to do so.
My songs arent songs in a conventional sense, he says. Where there would be choruses in another song, there are verses. People tend to have that expectation. And Im definitely not interested in having a formula. Every time I think about using a formula, I just cant.
Not everyone fully grasps the structurally quirky methods Vasquez uses, and he recognizes it. Still, hes not about to let that stand in the way of his broader artistic vision.
People give me criticism sometimes, that the songs arent focused or theyre missing something, he says. But I think of them more like mini-scores of my life.
The Soft Moon plays with Group Rhoda, Tropical Popsicle and DJ Art Vandelay at Soda Bar on Thursday, Dec. 13. thesoftmoon.com