Moonlight. The name Pale Dīan means moonlight, chosen to better reflect the band’s sound and intent as Blackstone Rngrs – as the earlier incarnation of the band was known – left critics and potential listeners expecting an altogether different style of music from the outfit. Ruth Ellen Smith (vocals and synths) and Derek Kutzer (guitar) constitute the core of the band, and in the change to Pale Dīan they ditched their drummer – finding themselves quite pleased with the results their drum machine provided – and picked up Nicolas Volpe on bass.
Plenty of people would balk at mere mention of a drum machine, let alone the relying on one as the sole source of percussion in band’s sound but, given that Smith and Kutzer explicitly state that they are seeking to explore and replicate darker, melancholic, moods in their music, the decision starts to make sense. From Smith and Kutzer’s perspective they don’t need to negotiate another’s emotional expression into their songs, and from the listener’s perspective the impersonal, painfully precise, drum hits of the machine eerily suit Pale Dīan’s brand of dark-pop/dark-wave music.
In an act of great prescience Narrow Birth opens with a track titled, Intro, which truly introduces the listener to Pale Dīan, with its stolid electronic beats, melody provided by the bass, squalls of guitar feedback for gritty atmosphere, and Smith’s detached, and reverb drenched, vocals. If you’re not on board by Intro’s conclusion, you may as well get off the ride now. Throughout Narrow Birth every musical element seems to drift along of its own accord; lonely; detached; ungrounded. Yet everything manages to form and maintain a coherency, disturbed though that may be.
Narrow Birth’s standout track is Feral Bloom, with its wall of noise approach and ‘80s dance music middle section, yet Kutzer’s guitar and Smith’s vocals add plenty of menace to the song. The band’s emotional assault also extends to the selected singles, In A Day and Evan Evan, which run for 6:22 and 5:16 respectively and are two of the album’s longest songs. Admittedly In A Day does feel overly long, but Pale Dīan aren’t concerned with giving you want you want as they are focused on giving what they need to share. For many, perhaps most, this will be entirely too much, but there are plenty out there who will embrace the challenging music Pale Dīan are producing.