In the progressive community, we can often be conditioned to think that complexity equals quality. I’ve often found that this is not the case, though. I’ve seen some write off the new solo record from Ville Valo due to its simplicity, but I’m here to say that its simplicity is its greatest strength. The album is called Neon Noir and it released on January 13th.
Ville Valo honestly needs little introduction. He is the former front man of HIM, a band I liked in my younger years. He has been busy since HIM broke up, though, with various avenues of solo work. I’m honestly not sure of the personnel on this album, though it is clear that Ville’s voice is the star of the show.
Ville has always written dark, poetic music. One thing that I noticed was his love for walls of subtle guitar distortion contrasted with bright acounstic guitar passages. Whether in HIM or in his solo career, he definitely appreciates songs that sound woven in amber shadows, that pierce directly to a living, beating, bloody human heart.
Neon Noir is no different as it focuses on his voice, his expressions, and love for understated infernality. I’ve always appreciated the class with which he writes and creates imagery; it is never crass or grotesque but is still powerful. And sometimes that accessibility is the greatest power anyone can have.
With this record, I feel like Ville has eased back on the darkness, letting his emotions and sense for melody take the lead. Many of these songs are harmless love songs, nothing complicated or metaphorical, but in that way they are strong. With the unadulterated tone of the album, Ville’s sound becomes accessible and familiar almost immediately. Will it be remembered for decades to come? I’m not sure about that, but it feels like a guilty pleasure or a breath of fresh air right now. It might not have the most impressive compositions ever written, but I do find myself singing along—a lot.
The first half of the album is all about the singles. “Echolocate Your Love” is a pleasant and melodic tune that instantly won me. “Run Away from the Sun” is equally catchy and beautiful. The title track, which sounds like a HIM song something fierce, has become a favorite with its grey soundscape. “Loveletting” and “The Foreverlost” both possess solid hooks that make them memorable, too.
The second half of the album is a little more interesting, though. “Heartful of Ghosts” is a great song with hints of abstraction and density that definitely take a few listens to process. “Saturnine Saturnalia” has Ville’s best vocals on the album and a deeply passionate flow that certainly takes six minutes to develop and complete its arc.
I appreciate the last two tracks, “Zener Solitaire” and “Vertigo Eyes”, probably the most. I see them as one song together. The former is a 2 minute instrumental piece that is pure dark cinema that builds effective expectations. The latter is the longest song on the album at just over 7 minutes. It has a quiet turbulence within its blood that slowly gives way to some of the heaviest guitars on the album. It is whimsical, though, not horrific. I like how it ends with a slow fade and Ville’s grainy vocals seeing us off. It’s a great ending.
Ville has a huge following, and I’ve learned of even several friends of mine who consider him to be one of their favorite vocalists ever. He has a way about him, a delicate emotional angst that is welcoming, not off putting. I mean, that has always been his thing, right? He’s always expressed his desire to move rock and metal away from showboating and poser aesthetics and towards the heart and the grit of human existence. Neon Noir is full of this, and it is effective in its lush simplicity.
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