Concrete Neon Moments

Brutalist Architecture in the Sun lean towards that grey, brooding niche of electronic music epitomised by the likes of Gary Numan, John Foxx and early Human League. 2019’s Monochrome Beach album (see TEC review previously) saw Dean Clarke and Tye Thomas’ darkwave outfit deliver one of TEC’s favourite albums of the year, a surprisingly effective collection of songs that played around with the idea of what the niche genre could serve up.

The Sadness Between Cities marks that album’s follow up, although much of the material for both albums had been written at the same time (‘Humanise’ from Monochrome Beach was originally going to be on The Sadness Between Cities, for instance). In the words of Dean Clarke, the pair have at least 30 songs in play at any one time before the “quality filter” comes into play.

The new album is billed as being “full of the stories of lost love, broken dreams, kinky lives and everyday drudgery behind the net curtains in the vast spaces between cities.” It’s certainly an on-theme summing up of the material on display here which continues Monochrome Beach’s aptitude for grey landscapes, moments of brief brightness and the curious contrast between the vocal styles of Clarke and Thomas (Clarke’s vocal style leans towards a stark, dour delivery. Meanwhile, Cye Thomas has an eerie fragility to his vocals).

The album starts out in a strong place with the dynamic rhythms of ‘Goodbye’ with its moody synths and Cye Thomas delivering a powerful angsty narrative (“I played with all my favourite cards/Really thought they’d get me through”).

‘My Poison’ offers a bolder contrast as Clarke delivers a hard-nosed invective on addiction, which also weaves in some neat synth flourishes.

Apparently, the fragile electropop of ‘Paper Lives’ is “based on real events” according to Clarke, although the cryptic nature of the lyrics (“Paper pages in paper books/Paper hearts and parachutes”) are open to interpretation.

‘Concrete Mezzanine’ utilises some nice wordplay from Thomas (“So easy to see, the floors of my life stretched before me”) and some polished synth work from Clarke. If you like the idea of the duo weaving in actual architectural musings, then this track is for you.

The duo’s working process takes place separately on the whole, with Clarke sending demos to Thomas so that he can “work his magic” on them. Much of the instrumentation of the album is pulled from Clarke’s impressive synth collection. His workhorse of choice is the classic Korg MS20, while the album also features Novation MiniNova and some virtual DX7 elements.

Apparently, ‘City Long Gone’ (described as “4AD meets Yazoo” by the band) caused some debate behind the scenes, with Thomas being convinced that it was “way off our sound”. It’s certainly a lot more ethereal and ambient in its immersive electronics, while Thomas delivers a wistful narrative revolving around a sense of not belonging: “Wishing time could take me back/To a city long gone.” As a result, it serves up one of the album’s finest moments and acts as the heart of the album.

Brutalist Architecture in the Sun at Synthetic City 2019.

Equally, ‘Suitomoton’, which was previously released as a single, has a strangely warm quality to it. That warmth is offset by lyrics that seem very on-point for BAITS (“I’m fading into grey”), but again demonstrates that employing contrasting ideas seems to bring out the best of their work.

The John Foxx-esque ‘Through The Trees’ has a rumbling, hypnotic quality. Elsewhere, there’s a darker, sexual quality to ‘Queen Dog’, with its musings on leather and danger.

‘Your Mind Is A Sinking Sand’ offers up a nod to classic synth-pop, while ‘She Died Too Young’ muses on mortality and loss measured against some insistent machine-like rhythms.

‘Beautiful Names For Ugly Places’ has a weirdly effective groove to it with its shuffling rhythms matched by slick synth work. As a composition, it seems to sum up a lot of the themes and ideas that a name like Brutalist Architecture in the Sun invokes.

For those that snap up the CD edition of the album, some bonus tracks are thrown in for good measure. This includes the off-kilter gem that is ‘Postcards’ and the stark reflection of ‘You’re Lonely’. The latter showcasing both Clarke and Thomas’ contrasting vocal styles on one song.

The Sadness Between Cities emerges as a more mature, thoughtful collection of songs than its predecessors (topped off by a striking sleeve design from Louis Bowes). The duo are already assembling ideas for the next album (titled Loneliness Kills) which they suggest is going to be a lot darker and a lot more melancholic.

But for the time being, Brutalist Architecture in the Sun have served up a compelling window into the human condition via The Sadness Between Cities.

The Sadness Between Cities is out now on Concrete Pop Records.