Despite the onset of summer and the inevitable stream of sunshine-filled-pop anthems and beach clad Vancouverites, local gothic post-punk duo Brittany Westgarth and Sam Buss of Koban are still filling hearts with enough despair to last the warm weather. With new album Abject Obsessions, fans of this city’s ever-present dark music scene will no doubt be pleased. These veterans have stuffed their third LP with mechanical beats, screeching guitars and piercing dual vocal techniques. It’s complex and moody, an indulgence to accompany an introspective evening, or crowded night in a dive bar.
The album conveys a sense of melancholy paired with a raw energy that grinds throughout its entirety. The first track, titled “This Pursuit”, begins with an elongated sonic drawl that is quickly replaced with Koban’s tight electronic drum beat, a near iconic sound. The noise is infectious, punctuated with the chilling monotone voice of Westgarth coupled with Buss’s backing vocals. Sliding in next is “Instinct of Ego,” which at first, could have been the beginning to a nightmarish version of any classic New Order song. Naturally, the gothic nature of Koban is powerful and that notion quickly subsides. It’s grating and provocative, and sets the pace of the rest of the album.
The danceability that emerges through electronic darkness may be just what puts Koban at the forefront of the gothic backdrop of Vancouver. In the fourth track “Elias See’s,” Westgarth moans the words “eternal bliss” over and over. Despite the despair in her voice, it’s dreamy. Reminiscent of The Sisters of Mercy, though perhaps not as accessible, each song creates imagery of dark, dingy bars filled with 80’s attire. It’s an assault to the senses, both intricate and rhythmic, a testament to Koban’s ability to produce thought provoking music.
The album ends with “We Run Red Lights”, a Joy Division infused, industrial delight. Its energy subsides and finishes quietly.
Koban seem to be growing in confidence, exploring new sounds and perfecting their vocal techniques. It’s not a huge leap from their previous album, Vide, but it’s certainly a step up. The duo have created something with poetic sensibility, artfully crafted. It’s a sinister, heart throbbing thriller, from beginning to end.