Bay-area post-punk / darkgaze trio Topographies contemplate humanity’s existential crisis on their enthralling debut album, ‘Ideal Form’.
In a world where time is either quickly fleeting for some or excessive for others, all have at one point contemplated the purpose of their existence. Why are we here and how should we spend the time we do have? How can we accept that our lives may end too soon or we may witness others pass too early? These existential questions – or more accurately our collective existential crisis – are pondered on Topographies‘ enthralling debut album, Ideal Form.
The trio of Jérémie Ruest (guitar, synth), Justin Oronos (bass, synth), and Gray Tolhurst (vocals, guitar) (whose father is indeed The Cure’s co-founder Lol Tolhurst) have crafted a record that perfectly captures the dire mood of 2020. It is a masterful combination of spine-tingling post-punk and cold wave with dreamy shoegaze. Tinges of the Goth-rock Tolburst’s father’s band popularized four decades ago also radiate throughout. Each of the LP’s eight songs are chilling, yet they emanate with a quiet optimism. Opener “Mirror” sets the tone with its throbbing bass line and soaring crystalline guitar, creating the feeling of a lonely 3AM drive in the middle of nowhere. This is the moment to gather one’s thoughts and, as Tolburst states, to see “down inside myself” and realize the emptiness that exists. Time may be infinite, but it is finite for us.
This doubt lingers on the devouring “False Desire”. With its penetrating and harrowing tones and Tolhurst’s trademark, ghostly vocals, the song is like stepping inside a forbidden realm for the first time. But instead of turning back, we continue onward. Even Tolhurst’s words reflect the magnetic pull that has us dive deeper into the unknown because this is the only way we can understand who we are.
“Alone I feel the boundaries of my lust
Broken buildings lovers filled with rust
I want it now
To feel the kick inside
Lay your hands upon me sister
Only darkness I can trust”
Starker still are “This Evening Also” and “Image”, on which the band come closest to replicating The Cure and, specifically, the legendary band’s Pornography era. On the former, synths swirl around the post-punk tremors as Tolhurst reveals how just the memory of another is like “fingers around my neck”. His life is tied to another, from whom he cannot break free. He further describes how this person haunts him on the beautifully foreboding “Image”. The Peter Hook-like bass drives the song, and it provides the hammer to Tolburst’s nail-biting lyrics. Through the turmoil and noise, he finds “it hard to live” and “to live inside you” every day. But is the pain his own or is his friend, parent, loved one that is suffering?
He offers an answer on the gorgeous, Goth-darkgaze number, “See You As You Fall”. As the lingering guitar, trembling rhythms, and bursts of synths create a dazzling soundscape, Tolhurst tells the story of “the fate of the end”. Life, however, continues. He quietly shouts, “I’m in heaven”, just as he sees someone he did not expect to meet. Our existence is not just tied to our time on Earth, but it extends beyond our beating hearts. It exists in others. Just as there is bliss in seeing someone, separation is inevitable. With the military-style drumming and harrowing approach, Topographies reveal how our lives are nothing but a “Lonely Figure”. That entity is another person, a deity, or even solely ourselves. Whomever it may be, our lives “get turned upside again” and again.
Just as night is about to fall, the band pull back the curtain on “Rose of Sharon”. The album’s centerpiece is a Goth-infused dreamland. The chiming guitar rains rays of shimmering light while the synths, bass, and drums fill every space with an intoxicating deliriousness. A daze sets in, but Tolhurst’s transcendent vocal keeps us on our path. He is here to guide us and catch us if needed. He will not allow us to fall and succumb to the “pleasure in disguise”.
It might be, however, too late because he, Ruest, and Oronos have taken us deep into the dark abyss of possibilities. They have made us realize our time here will expire, but our existence is forever. It may be made of stone, as revealed on “A Wine Dark Sea”, or our energy may float freely elsewhere. Our lives do not end. Our story is just beginning, as it is for Topographies.
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