If emptiness is the only thing you have to convey, why make music? It’s a question Luis Vasquez might have asked himself at least once during the making of Total Decay, the EP that follows the eponymous debut by his one-man project, The Soft Moon. Like its predecessor, Total Decay shivers with oblivion. Drawing on the chiseled, industrial post-punk of early Factory and 4AD bands, the disc’s four songs retreat even further from humanity—and existence, really. Where The Soft Moon swam in memories of warmth and remnants of half-submerged dreams, Total Decay marches robotically into the abyss.
That may have been the point—note the title—but Total Decay’s main drawback is its lack of contrast. Instead of the striking monochrome Vasquez previously painted, the EP is gray on gray. The opening track, “Repetition,” is almost embarrassingly on the nose, a chugging apparatus that stamps out its own recursive pulse. But it doesn’t leave an impression; too frantic to frighten and too panicked to lull, it fails as both ambience and aggression. The ironically named “Alive” is the EP’s best song, a Cure-like swarm of tribal beats and pinprick guitar that nonetheless suffers from the almost total absence of Vasquez’s voice. The retreat of his vocals into the background is one of Total Decay’s most curious missteps; Vasquez’s touching-from-a-distance croon is one of The Soft Moon’s strongest attributes, and one that makes the ice in his music feel even harder. But when he opens his throat on the EP’s title track, the sound is filtered through a glacier of effects and quickly abandoned.
“Visions” is the droning, synth-swept closer, and Vasquez doesn’t even bother singing on it at all. He doesn’t fill that void with anything else, though. Without the presence of flesh, none of the song’s angles feel that sharp or dangerous. To its credit, Total Decay is immaculately measured and precise—even if that’s the opposite of what decay, total or otherwise, looks like. Vasquez remains one of the most sure and striking practitioners of post-punk recording today, and perhaps his next full-length will combine the lushness and dynamism of his earlier work with Total Decay’s starker, harsher edge. On the other hand, the EP could be a tipping point; if he goes much further down this path, though, next time around he may as well hand in a blank disc.