South Of Heaven
As a purely conceptual thing, South of Heaven dropping in the first week of the end of the world makes for an on-the-nose fanzine ad tagline. In this case, it’s also an unfortunate reality. After more than a decade grinding out progressively complex heavy music in Coliseum, Ryan Patterson (now “R.”) launched Fotocrime as a solo project in 2017. The first EP and LP (2018’s Principle Of Pain) were solid, if meandering outgrowths of increasing new wave influences as Coliseum simultaneously wound down and found their voice. Touring behind those releases, first with a full band and then solo, Fotocrime seems to have evolved from “solo project” to just project.
Most of side A seems purpose-built as more grower than shower, mid-tempo and seemingly meandering. On the first few listens, the songs seem like a setup, if not a test to split the room. But the lack of gimmicks, tempo swings or dynamics pays off; a long game that’s obvious by “Up Above the World.” The core elements of what makes Fotocrime converge: bass tone and finesse complimented by synth lines and drum machines that are mechanical but not stiff. The mix is clear and fully-formed, but not sterile or half-full.
Side B kicks off with “Never Fall Out of Love,” opening with a quick, persistent beat and an immediate contrast. What’s carefully established early in the record is quickly harvested. “Expulsion From Paradise” has an angsty snap to both drums and vocals; the closest thing here to latter-day Coliseum. “Blue Smoke” lands as the most direct statement on the record, a post-hardcore reading of peak DEVO: deceptively deep and relentlessly melodic.
Conceptual and cute are too often cousins, but three years in Fotocrime is fully complete without any winking or nodding. The sweat equity is clear all over South of Heaven. There are collaborations throughout, including with frequent collaborators (and producer) J. Robbins, and Nick Thieneman of Young Widows, along with Erik Denno from Kerosene 454, Rob Moran from Unbroken. Recording was split between Steve Albini in Chicago and Robbins in Maryland, though the record is cohesive despite the varied locations and musicians. In most ways that matter, it’s a document of one person fully realized.