‘Criminal’, The Soft Moon's fourth studio album, is a confessional work. Through the stark lens of shame and guilt that has followed Luis Vasquez since a violent childhood growing up within the humming ambient sprawl of 80s Mojave Desert, here he documents the gut-wrenching sound of going to war with himself. Battling with his own sanity, self-hatred, insecurity, self-entitlement and grappling with the risk of these things transforming him into a person he despises, Vasquez has laid his feelings bare with this: his confession and most self-reflective work to date.
“Guilt is my biggest demon and has been following me since childhood. Everything I do strengthens the narrative that I am guilty” Vasquez reflects. “The concept of ‘Criminal’ is a desperate attempt to find relief by both confessing to my wrongdoings and by blaming others for their wrongdoings that have affected me.”
‘Criminal’ marks a striking and important chapter in his self-exploration, both artistically and emotionally. As a young musician living in Oakland, Vasquez began to try and process the narrative of his difficult upbringing veiled through musical exploration. Taking krautrock's motorik beats and Post-Punk deconstructions and honing them into a hushed percussive incantation, The Soft Moon's self-titled debut album took shape. The album was released in late 2010 by Captured Tracks and was praised by critics and emulated by contemporaries.
In 2012 the apocalyptic conceptual work of Zeros emerged, shortly followed by Vasquez moving to Venice, Italy in 2013, acting as a catalyst for 2014’s release, Deeper. While previous albums were primarily instrumental records, where Vasquez’s voice was diffused amidst the music as another instrument, Deeper marked the beginning of a new musical direction where vocals and lyrics became something more than a mere presence. Deeper was a descent into the womb of childhood trauma, anxiety and fear, and although Vasquez survived this dark exploration of himself, he did not return alone.
Working once more with Maurizio Baggio, who produced Deeper, at La Distilleria in Bassano Del Grappa, Italy, ‘Criminal’ sees Vasquez further explore putting his lyrics at the forefront and letting his raw emotions flow. The album begins with a confrontation with his true self through the torrid bass lines and searing vocals of “Burn”; a song evoking a loss of control akin to demonic possession, stating: "Eyes, reflecting the person that I am, and it burns". In this track Vasquez's guilt bores deeper and deeper into a condemnation that ultimately is: "Fire, hell is where I'll go to live, so I burn”.
“Burn” is followed by the caustic bass, mechanized rhythms, and numbing emulsions of “Choke,” a song about the amplifying and anesthetizing effect of cocaine, a drug whose darker side Vasquez is not unfamiliar with. The next track “Give Something” is a subterranean love song from the deepest depths, with harrowingly despondent lyrics, seeking hope in a sea of shame.
The album continues its thematic inner conflict in the Industrial/EBM percussion and distorted high attack bass of “Like a Father”, a song reflecting Vasquez's anger towards the father that abandoned him. “This head is a problem/You're the ghost of my problem/Something's got to give” pleads Vasquez as revving guitars invoke chainsaws before the song’s final lines search for closure: to kill the father within himself.
The album closes with title track “Criminal”; a despondent resignation to guilt; bereft, broken, and bruised, with lyrics that confess: “It's the way I cross the line, it's the way I open, it's the way to my decline, it's the way I'm broken”. The song, like the album itself, is Vasquez's way of holding himself accountable and seeking redemption for the abuse he inflicts on himself, and acknowledges roots in the abuse which, inflicted upon him as a child, broke him.