No one is ever really gone…
Over the past few years, Promenade Cinema have steadily crafted an impressive reputation for their unique brand of baroque synth-pop. Consisting of Dorian Cramm and Emma Barson, Promenade Cinema’s 2018 album Living Ghosts (see The Electricity Club review previously) was a stunning release that embraced a gothic sensibility across some accomplished songs, including the theatrical pop of ‘A Chemical Haunting’ and the bombastic ‘Cassette Conversations’.
New album Exit Guides continues that tradition of self-described ‘Cinedramatic Synthpop’ with eight compositions that dart around between bold darkwave delights and more earthy, ethereal outings.
Interestingly, the duo are less interested in penning quickfire 3-minute singles here as they are in crafting longer, more immersive compositions. The songs here are lengthy at times (‘Nothing Nouveau’ clocks in at over seven and half minutes), but nothing here feels as if it overstays its welcome. Instead, Exit Guides allows the band to utilise textures and space to good effect, although it does ask the listener to devote the necessary time to appreciate it.
The album starts off strongly with the robust ‘The Arch House’, which showcases Promenade Cinema’s talents for dramatic synth-pop with style. Here, Emma Barson’s sedate vocal delivery gives lines like “And once you cried for help/But you’re trapped inside yourself” some considerable narrative weight.
That cinematic sweep carries over into the perkier ‘Cold Fashion’, whose subtle bass percussion gives this number a beefy foundation to work with.
Promenade Cinema’s penchant for the dramatic gets dialled up to ten on ‘Nothing Nouveau’. It’s a gorgeous number that delivers layers of evocative electronics alongside some noir lyrical deliveries (“When the critics arise, with a glint in their eyes, it’s wearing thin”).
Meanwhile, the stark synth-pop theatre of ‘Passions In The Back Room’ showcases vocal duties from both Dorian Cramm and Emma Barson. It’s a more intense composition with some masterful synth work at its heart.
The piano melodies of ‘Memoirs On Glass’ presents a softer side to Promenade Cinema. It’s a much more intimate moment with some artfully crafted arrangements, often seeped in washes that give it a warm temperament. At times, it calls to mind the work of Jóhann Jóhannsson or Max Richter.
Similarly, the stately ‘After The Party, It’s Over’ offers up a more introspective piece. With its sweeping strings and Barson’s heartfelt vocal, it sounds like some lost This Mortal Coil composition. There’s a bittersweet quality to the lyrical delivery of lines such as “Dreaming of our happy days” and the inevitable acceptance of something ending. It’s a haunting moment that has an indescribable beauty to it – and also offers up one of the album’s finest moments.
The more strident ‘She’s An Art’ paints its dark pop with big brush strokes. Barson’s vocals are up front and centre on a number which is also enhanced with some exquisite synth fills.
Elsewhere, taking the album to the end, ‘Fading In The Arcade’ plays around with brooding synth rhythms alongside a haunting narrative about loss and the passage of time (“No one is ever really gone/They’re in the arcade, playing on”).
In conclusion, Exit Guides is an impressive dark pop outing, albeit one that deserves more time and attention than other records might demand. The album also boasts more emphasis on the baroque elements utilised in their previous work, giving this album a more mature feel – and a definite evolution of Promenade Cinema’s sound.
Exit Guides is out 20th March 2020: https://promenadecinema.bandcamp.com/album/exit-guides