ALBUM REVIEW: Roman Remains, “Zeal”

Roman Remains

Zeal may not be the most dynamic album released this year, but despite any misgivings, Roman Remains’ debut full length (out March 4th on H.O.T Records Ltd) beckons us into an immersive, dissonant world. Not to mention it’s catchy, synth-filled fun. Liela Moss and Toby Butler, of The Duke Spirit, set out with this electronic side project to create something “playful, but never dumb”. Though some of the bass lines and melodies echo The Duke Spirit, Roman Remains has a disparate vibe. Butler switches from bass riffs to potent downbeats and Moss from english rock band to powerful femme fatale. The strong female vocals and atmospheric musical backdrop lends depth and menace to an otherwise less notable album. While Moss has a voice like Bjork, Roman Remains is more reminiscent of Ladytron or Portishead – propulsive beats and seemingly sweet, but commanding lyrics. With this album they’ve captured grungy, otherworldly sensations with simple words and sounds.

The titles range from pastoral (“Agrimony”, “Gazebo”) to more dangerous (“Apoidea”, “Tachycardia”, “Vulture Beat”) to narrative (“Nest In Your Room”, “Thursty As A Truck”). Most of the songs are quite similar in structure: a simple, often slower opening that jettisons into the club-like, laden with heavy bass. While they could definitely benefit from some variation between songs, the narrative is what really pulls the listener in. The lyrics, while simple and often repetitive, lend to the powerful atmosphere. They can be very visual – “Looking at the people / Moving in the space between”, “Hard to see early evening stars” – as if looking through the eyes of the narrator. There are many possible interpretations. Personally, I see that narrator in some shadowy, cyberpunk club. She speaks strongly but effortlessly of power plays, melancholy, and anger. Simple images evoke all of these sensations, and as a result it’s difficult not to be drawn into the mood.

Track ten, “Vulture Beat”, has one of the more interesting openings – dreamy, and environmental. But it moves into familiar territory with the chorus, which presents yet another catchy, repetitive melody. The words are great, though, direct and sensual: “Help me / Help you / To pleasure”, “Help me / Help you / More”. Tack nine, “Animals”, also has a unique start. The sounds aren’t quite dissonant, but they’re strong and harsh with vocals leading in. Moss commands: “Back off”, “Keep / Keep / Watching this”, leading into the simplest chorus: “Oh Woah / Animals / Oh Woah / Oh no”.

Tracks seven and eight are more visual and speak towards the narrative. “Gazebo” is a bit melancholy. The beat is obvious, but softer than many of the other songs. The vocals are blended, and a bit hazy. Moss pulls the listener in when she sings “One hundred ways to watch / The shadows lose their light,” and manages to sound both earthy and soft. “Influence and Atlas” is more menacing. It begins with a thumping beat and words that construct a vague setting: “Looking at the people there / Moving in the space between”. Then, they build a vague relationship: “I didn’t know if you would influence it / I didn’t know if you would ever try” with a bit of “Oh / Oh / Oh” in between. It was easy for me to lose myself to this space, ambiguous, perhaps even slippery, but distinct.

Roman Remains plays with dissonance and juxtaposition. They’ve succeeded in making an album full of dark, urging energy and a powerful, yet fairly intangible story. There’s simplicity and there’s intensity. I felt empowered and emotional after I listened, a little weary, too, but more so compelled. Perhaps the next release will be more well-rounded and try a few experiments with genre and composition.

Check out the album’s first track, “This Stone Is Starting To Bleed”, below.

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VIDEO OF THE WEEK: This Stone Is Starting To Bleed


In preparation for the release of their debut full-length, here’s this week’s featured video: Roman Remains’ “This Stone is Starting to Bleed.” The electronic pop duo is the side project of English band The Duke Spirit’s Liela Moss and Toby Butler, who got together with director Marcus McSweeney to bring their first single to life.

“This Stone is Starting to Bleed,” the first track off of the upcoming Zeal, sounds both primordial and futuristic, earthy and industrial, manifested in the video by a shaman character dressed heavily in “native” garb as well as a welding helmet and gloves. He performs a sort of fire ritual on a rocky beach, clouded by a flood of colorful smoke and watched from afar by Moss and Butler.

For the upcoming record, Moss drew inspiration from her travels—from Los Angeles to the Himalayas—saying “You can’t miss out on the metaphors that all the terrain and colour provide, the cornucopia but the shit and glorious untamedness of it too,” which speaks to the visuals in the video as well. Check it out below and keep an eye out for Zeal, due out March 4th on H.O.T. Records Ltd.