Dark pop concepts

Visceral Candy's electro-pop is full of compelling contradictions

By Rev. Adam McKinney on September 28, 2017

Concept albums have existed for decades, utilizing a record's full length and capabilities to tell one unifying story. Usually, though, these albums function like short stories: a band or artist gets a bug of an idea and crafts a narrative through 40 or 80 minutes of music. At their most direct, we get concept albums like Pink Floyd's The Wall and Jethro Tull's Thick as a Brick; sometimes, we have concept albums that explore a theme, like The Kinks' The Kinks Are the Village Green Preservation Society and Smashing Pumpkins' Mellon Collie and the Infinite Sadness; other times, the albums are more rooted in an emotional cohesiveness, like Neutral Milk Hotel's In the Aeroplane Over the Sea and Titus Andronicus' The Monitor.

Rarer, though, is to see a band construct a concept album revolving entirely, honestly, about the songwriter's personal trauma. Usually, these types of releases are represented in the form of break-up albums, where we grant the artist the right to populate their work with soul-bearing words that obviously lead back to one incident, but that doesn't necessarily get lumped in with bands that got caught in a flight of fancy. Kanye West's 808s & Heartbreak is as much a break-up album as it is a conceptual one, pairing West's way-too-personal lyrics with an aesthetic that relies on a heavy use of synths and autotune to create a claustrophobic vacuum of oversharing.

It's in this tender area that we find an album by Seattle electro-pop outfit Visceral Candy. While their output always seems to be edging toward experimentation in any direction they find attractive, they went all in with a 2016 release titled Both My Dogs Died So I Wrote This Album. What the LP is about is anyone's guess, if anyone's guess is that the singer was sad about his dogs dying. Sure enough, those people would be right, and frontman Seth Swift puts everything out there in an album filled with titles like "Saxon Died on 9/5/14," "Savanna Died on 11/4/14," and "I Went to a Very Dark Place." There's also the one-two punch of "I Tried Replacing My Dogs with a Girlfriend," followed by "It Didn't Work Out."

On Both My Dogs Died, and their other albums, Visceral Candy collide catchy melodies and rhythms with surprisingly dark moods. Swift will switch between a tuneful tenor and an odd, menacing sing-speak that recalls some of the troubadours of ‘80s post-punk and goth. While Swift started Visceral Candy, he was soon joined by Ian Hernandez and Josh Street, with frequent collaborators Jay Battle, Tim Stiles, and Anngelique Anderson soon joining the fray.

Visceral Candy's malleability as a unit and their willingness to collaborate has made them a reliably surprising band to listen to. Battle and Stiles have both contributed rap verses to their dark pop songs, notably resulting in Visceral Candy feat. Tim Stiles, a full-length album that showed off the strength of them joining forces. Combined, Stiles and Visceral Candy bring out the best in each other, showcasing Visceral Candy's hand at compelling, minimalist melodies, and Stiles' witty, expressive performance. The album bounces between hyphy songs like "Stuff My Face Off" and more thoughtful stuff like "Coffee and Cigarettes." Regardless of how fast the track moves, the words fly by in a whirlwind.

Another album by Visceral Candy is reportedly in the works, but there's no way to predict just what that will sound like. They have a way of courting the trashy and the serene, the ironic and the truthful, the dance and the suspense, mixing gaudy and sublime into something completely unpredictable and wholly refreshing.

Visceral Candy, w/ Ice Party, TBASA, 9 p.m., Saturday, Sept. 30, no cover, O'Malley's Irish Pub, 2403 6th Ave., Tacoma, 253.627.9403