Beauty and unease are not your typical bedfellows, and yet the storied dark darkwave duo V▲LH▲LL has precisely wed these qualities in Neversleep, with traces of Grimes and even some Glass Apple Bonzai flavoring its chilled out blend of neo-folk and witch house. What’s laudable about Neversleep is how the album’s sound dialectically develops to prevent any sense of stasis from creeping in; it evolves into a more synth- and gravewave-infused experience, finally culminating in a sonic synthesis of these different facets.
“Drown Below” and “Inside of Me” trill and bubble with percolating, creamy sequencers, the latter offering a slightly more lush and traditional synthwave vibe a la Gunship. “Slithering” is the standout number the album, oozing squashed, oddball charm – a more synthpop “Man That You Fear” with all its Madonna Wayne Gacy charm, a delectable harmony between the vocals and synth lead handily selling the music-box hook. However, it’s at “Crown of Bones” that Neversleep shifts in a yet darker direction, a crucial volta for the otherwise generally upbeat progression, and similar to “Slithering,” the track is somewhat deformed and shambles with a Frankenstein-like charm. A similar shift happens with “For the Crows” and “Plague Ship,” both of which shimmer with a more aquamarine and ketamine-dusted energy, clinking along with classic 8-bit charm. However, the chorus of “For the Crows” is perhaps the poppiest of the album, whereas the string pads in “Plague Ship” present the strongest moment of gravewave. These undertones of retro gaming are continued in “Detention of Miskatonic,” which broods with a clubby F-Zero-laced rave-fury, making it a choice finish to the album.
Nonetheless, songs like “Slithering” exemplify a certain mesmerism by virtue of their paradoxical qualities of delicacy and deformation – arguably the unassuming but mythic “eerie core” that V▲LH▲LL strive to maintain in all their music. Ultimately, Neversleep is a well-honed album that will tempt even the electro-cynical into humming along with its percolating, charming creepiness.