Litanic Mask - Vampire Album Review

On Vampire, the second LP from gothy Portland synthpop band Litanic Mask, the trio draw upon vampire mythology to comment on the inability of people to connect.

Like their name, a Litanic Mask is a thin veil, separating the viewer from the viewed, while giving a ritualistic flair. In this case, the porcelain shield would be the sound walls of noisemakers Mark Burden and Andrea Kulish, whose pounding beats, pulsing synths and melodic keyboards make rays of light in the darkness, through which vocalist Kenna Jean swims in and out of focus. While she sings, “All I wanted was to see/ Your reflection in my mirror”, you get the sense that it might be she, and not the other person, who vanishes into smoke when you look.

While there are lyrical themes, stories, and emotions being played out in Vampire‘s psychodrama, you’d be hard-pressed to tell what they are, as Jean’s vocals are heavily reverbed and indistinct, becoming more of a wall of wail than narrative, in classic dream pop/shoegaze fashion. Because the vocals are not necessarily the focus, and Jean is not necessarily the frontwoman but more of a texture in the whole, Litanic Mask are best perceived as a live electronic band, with added vocals. This makes the electronics easier to latch on and relate to — which is good, because it is in the music where Litanic Mask shine, or the thing that catches your attention and draws you in, at any cost. Every synth stab, every ’80s chorus, every fluttering, flickering bassline, is perfectly placed and polished. The beats are solid and strong, while still remaining intricate enough to hold one’s attention. Meanwhile Jean hangs in the back like an shadow viewed through frosted glass. Her washy elusiveness brings to mind the angelic etherealness of Liz Fraser from Cocteau Twins — a comparison this band probably wouldn’t avoid. Comparisons to The Cure are probably also in order, particularly the upbeat poppiness of “The Lovecats” or “Fascination Street”, mainly with their synthetic strings. But perhaps the most accurate comparison would be to M83’s epic gothic melodrama Saturdays=Youth, with its walls of burning synthesizers and ambient vocals.

If you like any of those bands, you will definitely dig Litanic Mask, but that is not all there is. Litanic Mask are harder, heavier than any of those bands have ever been (except for maybe The Cure live), with beats influenced by the Dirty South and Chicago Footwork, which rage and tear at the seams, all while the synths and voice play it cool. They can get you worked up, or help you relax, depending on your mood and what you’re looking for.

Vampire can be an excellent companion for either reading at home, or going out to the club — for exploding, or introverting. It’s emotional, but it’s beneath the surface. And the layers and layers of beautiful sounds will draw you back, again and again, like a gazing pool, until a face finally emerges. Until the reflection returns.

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