Boomkat Product Review:
Outstanding sacrifice of cybergoth dancepop by New York’s X Harlow, hexing lines between Arca, Burial, The Cure and Alex Zhang Hungtai on ace, exploratory label, Sweat Equity NYC
One of the most striking new works we’ve heard in a minute, ‘Cathars’ ventures the 2nd part of a triptych started with 2020’s ‘Anchorite’, and continues X Harlow’s unique trajectory thru cthonic realms of coldwave pop with strong, seamlessly incorporated influence from UK dance music and Latin freestyle. It’s a dead special consolidation of disparate cues, strafing the shadows of many subgenres but beholden to none of them, and crucially draws on and evokes its heavy, non-musical inspirations - countercultural medieval gnosticism, personal health issues, contemporary socio-politics - in a way that doesn’t feel cloying or distract from its self-evidently expressive results.
Under a titular nod to the unorthodox Christian movement originating between the 12th and 14th centuries, ‘Cathars’ is quite literally one for the heretics, and quite possibly a crafty pun on the cathartic power of goth music. With vocals that step to the right side of the current emo-indie/sad rap tropes, they adapt the framework of classic coldwave - gloaming minor key motifs and shivering negative space - with seamlessly woven nods to the trills of Latin electro freestyle and UKG in a way we’ve simply not heard like this before.
The sepulchral hymnal ’Apparitioner’ is a case in point, underlining This Mortal Coil-esque vox with filleted 2-step and washed out dub, and ‘Light is Gone’ somehow channelling Robert Smith in sad rap steppers style, with ‘Credentes’ nodding toward ‘&&&&&&’ era Arca, and the noctilucent sax of ‘Lost In Her House’ harking to Alex Zhang Hungtai via beat less Burial works. Together with the shimmering choral fantasy of ‘Metempsychosis’ and accomplished, Anni Hogan-esque solo piano coda of ’She Is Found’, it’s unmissable business for listeners of a goth-industrial-dance persuasion, from monochrome types to those who carry it in the inside pocket.