This June is one of those rare months where I’m looking forward to every album that crosses my reviewing eardrums. Of course, that’s often a recipe for disappointment at least once, if not more. Lucky for me, last week’s Pelican album did not disappoint, and next week’s Howling Sycamore is certainly interesting after a cursory spin. I close the month out with Those Darn Gnomes, and a tentative spin of that oddball has left me queasy, but I like queasy. So where does that leave this week’s album, Pinkish Black’s fourth, Concept Unification? I have a soft spot for this band: they went through hell back in 2010 when, as The Great Tyrant, their bass player committed suicide. The remaining duo carried on as Pinkish Black, a morbid reminder of the color of the bathroom where Tommy Atkins killed himself. 2015’s Bottom of the Morning was their strongest release, a haunting, propulsive, cathartic album where all of the duo’s ideas meshed beautifully. How will they follow that?
Pinkish Black have often been compared to bands like Goblin and Tangerine Dream, with their penchant for creating cinematic soundscapes with an almost magnetic pull to them. That doesn’t change on Concept Unification, and the title track fades in with synthetic layers of menace. Daron Beck’s echoing, distant vocals add to the feel. “Until” is almost a conventional-sounding song, if it weren’t for the waves of distorted synthesizers that serve as the foundation. And “Next Solution,” the album’s final song (not counting the two bonus tracks), is possibly the band’s best work. 12 minutes long, opening with a pensive piano and plaintive vocals, this is the epitome of doom. Jon Teague’s drum fills add more emotion, and the grind of the synths as the pair ramp up the tempo and menace is alluring. The three-minute descent back into a dirge-like pace is great suspense. This is a song that begs for repeated listens, and rewards you differently each time.
Not every song connects, though, and on a six-song outing that’s a bit of an issue. “Dial Tone” lives up to its namesake, not really taking us anywhere compelling over its six-minute-plus journey. “Petit Mal” starts and ends in delicate fashion, but again never fully has us in its grasp. And “Inanimatronic” is certainly the most sinister-sounding song on the album, but rather than increasing that feeling it loses its way in its deliberate pacing. Both of those songs—instrumentals—would be satisfying chapters in a movie score, but with nothing to accompany them (you know, like a movie), the static arrangements fail to hit the mark. On Bottom of the Morning nearly every song held my interest from start to finish: here on Concept Unification, Pinkish Black fail to maintain that momentum consistently.
The juxtaposition of Beck’s digital arsenal and Teague’s acoustic drums still works better than bands that are all-electronic. Teague has a way of adding just the right amount of weirdness to his drum rhythms and fills, keeping us slightly off balance, and Beck almost always lands on patches and samples that are “just right.” Musically, this is a well-balanced mix, with percussion snapping out at us from the full-bodied synth patches. Beck’s David Sylvain-like vocals are still back in the mix farther than they need to be—I’d love to see him push those up front with a bit more confidence. But aside from that, Concept Unification sounds great.
Concept Unification is a fine album that doesn’t quite live up to the more lofty standards of its predecessor. That’s not to say this is a bad record, though: just uneven. It sounds great, and “Next Solution” is one of my standout songs of the first half of the year, but Pinkish Black can’t quite channel that feeling throughout. When they hit their mark this is excellent music, but there are enough misses to keep Concept Unification in the “Mixed” range.