Belmez Faces – This Is The Dark Timeline – Album Review
And here we are, just as we promised! If you tuned into the most recent episode of the SBS Podcast, you’re ahead of the pack – we played their song “Sinister Blood” on the show, and you’ve got yourself a good idea of what you’re in-store for here today in review as we follow up and dig into the rest of their new record called This Is The Dark Timeline. If you haven’t check that new episode out for yourself yet – fret not, you can catch up to the rest of us anytime ya like – click here to hear more of my thoughts on Belmez Faces and have a listen to their music in amongst a whole playlist of independent awesomeness.
Based out of Seattle with multi-instrumentalist Royce Thompson at the helm, producing the music of Belmez Faces alongside Steven Hilmes, you’ll find this duo has an exceptional amount of uniqueness working in their favor. Self-defined as Neo Goth/Electro-Pop – you’ll find no substantial objections from me on that…not only is that bang-on accurate to describe the sound, but I also happen to dig vibes like these. Hard to find something you’d feel like might ultimately compare to Belmez Faces 100%, and I like that too…closest I really felt like I came was feeling like Bloc Party and Keke Okereke dip into similar melancholic grooves and melodies at times…but even that would be a loose comparison. You know the songs I’m talkin’ about though…the Post-Punk/Alt-vibes they create & the artistic atmospheres they get lost in at points throughout their records…for better or worse, I’ve always appreciated the depth in the ideas and the songwriting, and more often than not been impressed by the results. Same applies here.
A song like “Dominique” does a ton to distinguish Belmez Faces from so much that’s out there in one tiny, less-than 2:30 experience…more than most cuts you’ll find on any record, that’s for certain. I dig artistic vibes like this myself personally…I like the difference they contain, and I like the fact that it’s not typical – I think you’ll also find that there could potentially be what you’d consider more accessible cuts on the album later on down the road as well, which tells me that with “Dominique” being track one, that Belmez Faces ain’t afraid to take a few chances & risks in pursuit of making a memorable impact on ya. Musically, they had me interested immediately…there’s just something about the melody in this song and the unsuspecting way it seems to innocently do what it does…that intangible & indescribable stuff we love about music that is so hard to pin down…”Dominique” instantly confirms that this band isn’t going to be any kind of normal band, and they’ll go on to live up to the standards they set here on track one throughout the rest of the record to follow. Over time & experience of listening to this record, I’ll say this – “Dominique” never really lost its playful charm on repeat, and the more I ended up touring through This Is The Dark Timeline, the more I appreciated how a track like this introduces you to the sound & style of Belmez Faces without giving the whole farm away at once, allowing the record to grow. Sure it’s fair to say that you’ll find cuts you like more further into the lineup, but I’d be willing to bet that the more you listen to the album from start to finish, you’ll find this first track is always fully welcome.
I’ll admit to having a brief moment of somewhat panic in the first couple spins through this record in terms of trying to decide which song I might play on the ol’ SBS Podcast, and eventually I settled on “Sinister Blood” as the choice we went with – but I ain’t lying to ya when I say, at first, I wasn’t sure what to play at all – which of these songs might break through on their own? Justifiably, it could just as much be any of these tunes every bit as much as it could potentially even be none – that’s the risk we take in going our own route, doing our own thing. I don’t tend to panic for long…it’s a trigger mechanism that starts working on me quickly this far into my own career as a music journalist; I’ve long often said that some of the very best records we find out there are almost instantly rejected by our ears entirely. I didn’t find the effect quite so extreme here – I could hear multiple reasons as to why I knew I’d come around in-full to what Belmez Faces were creating, I just wasn’t sure how quickly it’d all take root. Turns out it really wasn’t that long at all…a spin on the podcast, and just a few more rotations through the whole record afterwards, and I was pretty much hooked on the vast majority of this record. Let’s not forget – Belmez Faces has got one other EP under their collective belt, which is the Absent Grief EP from last year – they’ve still got plenty of time to settle into their own style, sound, and vision even more too. “Sinister Blood” probably ended up with the edge over “Santa Clara” for me for the lyricism on display; I don’t wanna get too nerdy or meta on ya, but the word-selection, imagery, and structuring by Belmez Faces on a cut like this certainly deserves a whole lot of credit for the interest it generates. Otherwise, I mean, it’s fair to say that a song like “Sinister Blood” is about as anti-typical of a tune as it gets from the performance to the production…listen to the way it moves, listen to the cleverness in the timing and how this cut almost plays like it could verifiably stay locked into the thick of its atmospheric shroud forever…listen to key additions you can’t live without like the guitars that creep in around the 3:30 mark – they’re making moves that get noticed one way or the other, but it’s the fact that they’re playing by their own rules and going where their music naturally takes them that remains consistently impressive.
You can’t help but dig on the brighter vibes of a song like “No Tomorrow” as the music begins and hits with that crisp snap in the synth-snare along the way. I’d have this cut up there with some of the best for sure…though I’d also argue the reason WHY that ends up being the case, is revealed at the very end – and this is where I’d point out the potential evolution in the music of Belmez Faces to follow. It all depends on what kind of band they wanna be over time & all – but this would be a highlight example of how they latch onto a single hook here in this one song that’s SO STRONG, that most other artists & bands would have milked it to the nth degree, if not built an entire album around it. The more I listen to This Is The Dark Timeline, the more I became convinced that when you hear that transition around the two-minute mark – with ONLY a mere forty-five seconds or so left on the clock to work with – that they’ve got the record’s biggest hook, most accessible sound, and memorable moment all in one here. It could be completely by choice that they only launch into this part of the song for as short of a time as they do intentionally by design – but with Belmez Faces also being still so relatively new on the scene as well, you have to wonder if this might also be a missed opportunity or not fully recognizing where the main strengths might truly be…and that’s fair, it can take years of experience to completely know where those moments exist…sometimes. Then there are times like this, where you hear that insane degree of allure, hook & pull in the air…the uplifting switch in energy and noticeable spark of inspiration in the transition…and straight-up magic in the melody, that you gotta recognize its universal appeal when you hear it. “No Tomorrow” is a track I can guarantee will provide that moment of insight into what the potential for Belmez Faces could go on to become unlike any other cut will give ya – I love this song.
“Over The Line” was probably the track I felt like I came up the hardest against almost each time it came on. Like – I freakin’ love the low-end bass grooves they dig into here…but I’ll admit they might have even gone a little over my own head with this particular tune. Music-wise, I felt like there were some solid ideas…not my favorites, but some good stuff in there too. Vocally, I’m not even pinning the blame of why I felt like “Over The Line” might not have quite worked as well as the rest on that one element alone either…it was just the resulting combination of both together, which happens sometimes. Again, if you’re following along with this review, “No Tomorrow” might have very well contained the most recognizable moment & most accessible hook on the album overall – and that’s always a tough act to follow. In a way, I kind of felt like it was almost the polar opposite of what we experience in the cut right beforehand…almost an act of artistic defiance, as if to say – ‘you found real universal hooks you could sing along with and vibe with already, so now try to follow us right down the rabbit-hole, will ya?’ I liked spots around the two-minute mark personally, where the sound spread out serenely for a moment or two, but I also found I liked the main groove of the low-end as well – and the more colorful way this cut expands into its chorus, same thing – I really liked that as well. Individually, each piece of “Over The Line” felt like it offered something impressive to absorb, but as a song overall, it felt like this was a looser construct that would likely prove to be a bigger challenge for the masses to keep up to.
Listen to that transition around the 2:45-ish mark of “Nightingale” will ya? Subtle & brilliant – just the right twist to keep the adventure into a six-minute tune fully justified, without damaging the rest of the atmosphere surrounding it or disrupting the vibe – they’ve got a beautifully captivating cut on their hands with this track, and you’ll find that anything snapping you out of its hypnosis will encounter your resistance. I didn’t wanna hear the phone ring, or my dog bark, or the laundry-machine tell me it was finished in the background when I was listening to “Nightingale” – nothing – I wanted the vibes that this six-minute song provides, and nothing else. While you’re not bound to find too many up-tempo tunes on this record to begin with, “Nightingale” proudly embraces being a moody & dreamy style of song that drifts along even more slowly than most, but the reality is, they create a seriously compelling cut out of this entire song as a result. There’s a lot of me that wants to put “Nightingale” right up there with the very best on this record and I’m scratching my head as to why I wouldn’t just outright tell ya that. Part of me suspects it’s just coming down to pace here…I know the typical effect of mid-tempo tunes that tend to drift & float along dreamily like this cut does when it comes to the everyday set of ears of the average listener out there…but c’mon y’all – “Nightingale” beats the odds, does it not? It certainly should. I think it’s extraordinarily impressive that for the entire six-plus minutes, I never once felt bored with this track – not one my first trip through the album, nor even by the last as I finished up writing this here review – I felt like how solidly & stoically they retain our interest on this track speaks volumes on behalf of what Belmez Faces is capable of. The textures & tones in these sensory vibes are next-level, the vocals are perfection, the hooks are stronger than strong…I mean, I’d get it if ya told me you might not wanna throw “Nightingale” on in the middle of your Friday night party to keep it going ‘til Saturday morning…but other than that, I’ve got all the time in the world for a cut like this with the depth it has.
“Santa Carla” nearly became the choice as to what I’d spin on our last podcast episode…but I figured, given the fact this track has its own official video out there & available now online…I’d make sure you got a chance to check this cut out for yourself right here on our pages – so do that! I ain’t opposed to it – I think I might personally prefer the track we played, “Sinister Blood” by a couple degrees, but “Santa Carla” is still another solid gateway into the music of Belmez Faces. You hear a track like this and you start to appreciate that, while still decisively different than the majority of the scene out there, cuts like “Santa Carla” aren’t really all too much of a distant cousin to sounds you might find in bands like The Editors, She Wants Revenge, or even TV On The Radio…it’s dark, melodic, synthetic, slightly haunting & equally beautiful…you gotta hand it to Belmez Faces for tapping into their sound & style so early on into their career, and the supremely focused & cohesive record they’ve put together with This Is The Dark Timeline. What I loved about a track like “Santa Carla” is that even when you get a degree or two more of accessibility in the hooks of a song like this, it still all comes along with an even larger margin of real art involved…so even when they give you something you might find you could verifiably sing along with for a moment or two, it’s all still surrounded by sound that’s a much larger challenge to what we typically hear in the music we listen to, and provides you with something decisively different to listen to in the final results, each and every time. In essence, spinning this song on the podcast would have been nearly as good of an introduction to the music of Belmez Faces as the cut we ended up playing – but the reality is also true that, you could choose nearly any track from a cohesive record like this and feel like you could justify the choice. Belmez Faces are locked into their sound & style really early on and display the genuine focus of a band that’s been around the scene for many more years than they have been. The major advantage that “Santa Carla” has is certainly within its main hooks – the chorus becomes more & more addictive the more you spin it, and reveals a major highlight from the microphone as well.
Do I love tracks like “Catatonia?” Folks – I LIVE for tracks like “Catatonia” – we good? Need I say more? Don’t get it twisted, don’t get me wrong, at the end of the day, I know a spoken-word cut ain’t always for everyone…but if THIS particular track isn’t for you, I’m afraid we can no longer be friends anymore. Because this is sheer sonic brilliance, straight-up. From the vivid textures swirling into the mix, to guitar tones you’d expect to find in the chaotic emotional depths of an album by The Cure…I mean…you factor these things in along with the brilliant vocal samples on “Catatonia,” and what’s not to love? There’s an argument to be made that this cut is the most different within the entire set of This Is The Dark Timeline – but if you ask me, it’s not only brilliant, still cohesive, and compelling from start to finish, but it also makes just enough of a departure from the rest of this set to be recognized and appreciated for what it brings to the album overall. We need moments like these as listeners…more than we often recognize – tracks like “Catatonia” are just as much of an opportunity for us to reset and get ready for the final three cuts as it is for Belmez Faces as well…we’re chillin’ out & drifting into more experimental vibes on this track than you’ll find in most; just being a spoken-word-driven tune to begin with will set it apart from the rest, but I’d imagine many out there will feel like I ended up – this is just 100% interesting to listen to and you wanna hear a whole lot more of it. Not just on this record, but in the music of Belmez Faces to follow as well – this is the kind of twist & turn & subtle gem that you wanna find in a true experience – they’re not out to create another typical tune here, and they’ve come out with a strong & engaging cut as a result. No doubt that “Catatonia” is the outlier on this album by some measures, but it’s definitely awesome, that much I can tell ya for sure – every time this track came on, it had my attention in-full.
With exquisite synth sound pulsing away and supplying a serious low-end groove, “Kill The Light” stands an immediate chance of catching the people’s attention out there. Vocally, I’d probably be inclined to say this one gets stronger as it plays on – I wasn’t entirely sure about the opening verse…as “Kill The Light” started, it had that cadence of feeling like they were still searching for the ultimate melodic sweet-spot. Chorus-wise, I think they recover solidly enough, but I’ll also readily admit I think it’s gonna be the music of “Kill The Light” that likely makes the biggest impact on the people out there & sells them on this cut. Mix-wise, you can kinda assume they felt the same way; there are plenty of songs you can point to where the vocals sound like they’re intended to be more up front on the surface & noticeable in their clarity word-for-word…but there are also a few in this lineup as well where the vocals are sunken in deeper into the music, which allows for a more substantial, enveloping, and balanced vibe overall. Think of music like say…The Strokes for example…chances are, none of you have any idea about whatever it is that Julian Casablancas might be singing about, but the melody still hits ya and it still sounds great, don’t it? The point is we don’t always need to catch every word as listeners anyway, so taking a few more risks in the mix like Belmez Faces arguably does with a song like “Kill The Light” certainly stand to pay off in the long run…multiple options when it comes to how something will sound and where they can direct the attention of our ears. Essentially, it’s fair to say that we hear what Belmez Faces wants us to hear. Like a great many of the songs on this record, the less sure I seemed to be about something on those first few tours through the album, the more it would seem to grow on me. “Kill The Light” is a stellar example of the effect of that in action…the slower speed of this melody will work its magic on ya quickly.
As it began, I wasn’t entirely sure that “Abyssal Gigantism” might not run into some of the issues in the layering & clarity that “Over The Line” had in its combination of sounds earlier on, but the way they spread out their dynamics throughout this second-to-last cut on This Is The Dark Timeline ended up damn near being worth the entire price of admission. All-in-all, “Abyssal Gigantism” will go on to flex some of the most extraordinary potential of the band in terms of their creativity, ideas, and ability to execute…I think there’s probably an argument to be made in respect to trading a bit of accessibility for the artistic integrity of their tunes, but ultimately I felt like this track has a healthy balance of both. There’s an undeniable degree of high-art at work here, but along the way, you’ll find moments that are exquisitely addictive for their sheer catchiness & sparkling sound as well. Belmez Faces seems to have no real issues with drifting in & out of both realms as they transition through this tune – as I’ve told ya already, they make their own rules, they’re clearly blazing their own trail, and their own instincts are leading them to truly unique & sensational results. Do I think there’s room to increase their reach and potential accessibility perhaps? Sure. But I’d likely feel that way about any artist or band at this stage of their career if I’m being fair to Belmez Faces – and the room to expand & evolve is always a good thing anyhow. The real point is that, when you listen to tracks like “Abyssal Gigantism” and you do reach those main hooks, or maybe even the more subtle groove they’ve got in the artistic design of their verses – whatever it is that ends up being what really hooks you in, you’ll find the magic possessed in that specific moment will likely rival or surpass even your favorite tunes out there on your playlists. Whenever I hear the vocal sing “we know you’re down there somewhere” on this cut, I fall right in love with it all over again…combined with the whispered elements, and the radiant sound of the music at the peak of its melody…I mean…it’s just sheer sonic brilliance and there’s no argument to be made otherwise. Lots of positives here…I’d be the last guy to tell anyone out there to trade the artistic side of what you do for an inch more accessibility…do your own thing like Belmez Faces are doing – if the people out there can catch up to ya, fantastic…if they can’t, you’re just ahead of your time is all. I think Belmez Faces will have no problem at all winning people over with the magic of the chorus in this cut.
The way they end this record, is straight-up amazing, full-stop. Belmez Faces should be seriously proud of crushing their debut full-length album as hard as they have through the subtle vibes of “Dark Timeline” and sending us off with this track as the finale. For nearly six-minutes, you lock right into this savagely intense last cut…hypnotic & mesmerizing throughout its first three & a half minutes or so, and then you’ll find that they’ve got all kinds of ideas to add into the last couple minutes to give this record the solid conclusion it deserved. In all honesty, it’s right up there with the very best on This Is The Dark Timeline in my opinion…and I think what I love most is how freakin’ gripping & captivating this track sincerely is, with Belmez Faces simply doing what they naturally do & not punching us in the face for our attention with some weird gimmick or anything pretentious, you dig? They earn your attention, because what they’re creating is genuinely interesting to listen to, and loaded with ear-catching sound that suits the entire song…whether it’s the music or the vocals or both, they’ve got “Dark Timeline” nailed from every angle you listen, and finish this experience off with a mix of substance & style as one. They’ve done a fantastic job with the length of these cuts…in many ways, I felt like songs like “Nightingale,” “Abyssal Gigantism,” and this final cut here were easily among the very best in the set, and they’re the three longest cuts to be found on This Is The Dark Timeline. That’s more than encouraging if you ask me – that’s a freakin’ gift; theoretically, the longer they create a song for, the longer they keep our attention affixed & locked onto their every move. Listening to the atmospheric vibes of “Dark Timeline” gradually build…I mean…I’m just tellin’ ya like it is y’all – this is absolutely stellar to experience in every way…murky & distant like you’d find in the chilled-out intensity of something like Nine Inch Nails when Trent’s not punching you in the face with sound instead. It’s sleek, it’s got a sexy rhythm & groove at the center of its core, and it still hits just as hard as the best of any cut you’ve heard from Belmez Faces when it comes right down to it. “Dark Timeline” might appear more subdued…but listen to the resounding confidence in EVERYTHING you’ll hear…from the thundering drum sounds, to the brilliant guitar solo & synth sounds in the mix…pound for pound, you’d have a hard time not putting this final cut right up there with the very best of this record – these are the notes you wanna go out on with on an album – “Dark Timeline” is the kind of spellbinding song that’s guaranteed to bring you back.
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