Darkwave is one hell of a beguiling genre.
The morose, sadder brother to synth-pop, and the more sensitive, less-assured relative of goth, darkwave is all minor chord compositions and baritone tales of despair.
But when deconstructed, darkwave is so much more than an outlet for sad boys to sing sad things. Marked by diaphanous synths, otherworldly drum machines and elevating keys, the foundational elements of darkwave are actually kind of peppy — a sound that could easily mark the triumphant turning point in an ’80s movie. Wielded correctly, even minor chords can evoke a kind of whimsical nostalgia, bringing a smile to one’s face while they wipe away the tears.
It’s only when paired with lyrics that typically skew toward the (very) despondent that the music takes on a more introspective, withdrawn, and somber feel. But that’s what makes it work — that’s what makes most pop music work — it marries two foreign ideas into a cohesive whole.
Zach Dighans, the San Francisco-based creative force behind Loner Statue, understands that formula and wields it with great delicacy on “Controller,” the latest single from his solo project. Sonically, “Controller” is an insistent, bracing number, impelled from the onset by a lively synth outburst and pacing from an equally urgent drum machine. He flutters in some lively guitar and the electronic elements just keep rising throughout the tune, reaching a buoyant crescendo at the song’s finale.
Dighans voice, however, is pure Curtisian melodrama, a brooding, icy mechanism that would make the former Joy Division singer blush. When he sings “then I lose all control,” there are more than just eerie similarities to Joy Division’s post-punk classic, “She’s Lost Control.”
But “Controller” is not some basic retread. When describing the single, Dighans says that he “gave thought to the idea of fate, and how we may not have as much control over our thoughts and actions as we may think.” A keen observation at any time, but one that takes on greater resonance as we try to cope with the quarantined, isolated and restrictive world of the coronavirus pandemic.
Further to that point, the video for “Controller” is pure 21st century ennui — capturing party scenes where everyone is mindlessly on a phone, talking over one another, dispassionately (and occasionally passionately) going through the motions. At the center is Dighans, looking like he’d rather be eating glass than hanging out with those folks — something I think we can all find relatable.
It’s an apt summation of darkwave — a fancy, glittering party filled with loud noises and bright lights, and all you have is the bitter thoughts within your head.
Through Loner Statue, Dighans masterfully captures the dichotomies of darkwave, and with the current state of the world, he should have no problems providing more entries for the genre.