Dark distortion adventures

The arrival of new album Division heralds a significant landmark for Violent Vickie. A darkwave journey into a selection of compositions that offer up moments of raw sleazy electropop one moment, then curiously ethereal beauty the next.

Based in Los Angeles, Violent Vickie describes herself as a “Dark Synth-Riot” artist. Embracing themes that include consumerism, relationships, gender, hedonism and all points in-between, Vickie (often in collaboration with cryptically-named co-producer/recording guitarist E) carves out a strange dreamscape of sound that can be unsettling, but always intriguing.

Growing up in San Dimas, Vickie has originally found inspiration from friends who were into experimental electronic music. Familiarising herself with processors and analogue synths, she also took inspiration from the likes of Peaches, Crystal Castles, Grimes, Throbbing Gristle, Miss Kittin, Nina Hagen and riot grrrl bands like Sleater Kinney and Le Tigre.

Division follows on from her 2013 debut Monster Alley and features tunes such as the previously released ‘Serotonin’, ‘Circle Square’ and ‘The Blame’. If you’re familiar with those tracks, then you’re not likely to be disappointed by the compositions that they share this album with.

In fact, the album kicks off with the brooding tones of the Gothic ‘Serotonin’, which is easily one of Division’s finest moments. The haunting choral effects of the synths here, contrasted with dark electronics and effects-laden dirty guitar deliver a damaged hymnal. The indistinct vocals seem to drift in and out with a vague sense of unease (“Your devil tongue/Your demon eyes”).

‘The Gloom’ slips into a cleaner, rhythmic electronic approach which recalls the work of Princess Century. Here, the vocals are covered in a wash of echo and effects while exploring themes of desire and need (“When I’m alone/I can’t help thinking about you”). It’s a surprisingly effective number whose squelchy melodies will stick in your brain for some time.

But dark themes are never far away, as evidenced on the slow burn brooding of ‘Lovelace’, whose lyrical narrative explores the tragedy of Linda Lovelace’s experience in the porn industry (“Her body was currency”).

Meanwhile, the sublime ‘Circle Square’ chugs along with mesmerising beats while Vickie’s vocals offer up a gauzy quality (“I stumble along/In your world”). It’s a song that explores the idea of not belonging, driven home by a consistent hypnotic drone.

Division also seems to take a few left-field turns, such as the ephemeral ‘Rain’ which presents a shimmering interlude of sorts that wouldn’t sound out of place on a This Mortal Coil release. The album excels at its embracing of mesmerising dreampop moments, such as the sublime deep dive of ‘The Monster’ or the twilight mood of ‘Get to Me’.

At other times, VV pulls from the Grimes playbook with magickal reveries that make good use of a gossamer, indistinct vocal against dreampop electronics. ‘Gaslight’ fits that template here with its ethereal draw. Similarly, the more perky ‘The Game’ offers primitive pop that brings to mind the oddly evocative tunes that Grimes excelled at in her earliest work.

The album drops down a gear for the garage-punk rhythms of ‘The Blame’. Here Vickie builds up a foundation of raw electronic percussion against distorted synths and guitars. The result is a visceral composition that recalls Peaches, while dealing with themes of letting go of an unhealthy relationship (“I’ll take all your pain/And I’ll take all the blame”).

There’s a more raw, stripped-down arrangement for ‘Get Violent’ which also weaves in some dirty guitar into the mix. Similarly, ‘Under the Gun’ delivers a slice of gritty synth-pop.

Aiming for a darker approach to electronic music can be a tough gig to successfully pull off. It’s easy to fall into overwrought goth trappings that labour too much on the theatrical. But Division clearly illustrates a talent and ability to hone the music into compositions that engage the listener at deeper levels. Here, the various songs explore emotional seams that can be unsettling at times, but also cathartic in execution.

Violent Vickie also isn’t planning to slow down any time soon, with a remix album on the horizon. But for now, Division serves as a perfect intro in her synth-riot world.

Division is out now on Crunch Pod.

This review originally featured on The Electricity Club website