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When Plague Vendor were about make their newalbum By Night, singer Brandon Blaine didn’t exactly know what he wantedit to sound like, but he did know what he wanted it to look like. “A housethat’s falling apart but lit up like crazy,” he says now, six months afterfinishing a record that captures that exact feeling of ruin and regeneration,of charisma and catastrophe and of slashing at the night with nothing but pureelectricity. Where 2016’s BLOODSWEATended with a to-be-continued moment and Blaine shouting “Romance!” into thesilence, By Night ends with a second of feedback and noise. It's aperfectly spent finish to an adrenaline rush of a record that asks, “What justhappened?”
Plague Vendor are already used tomaking nothing into something. It’s a place where the only way things happen isif you make them happen. A fearless our-way-is-the-hard-way work ethic andfamously physical live shows won the band a ferocious fan base, a flash-bangdebut album and place of pride on the Epitaph Records roster. When they calledthat album BLOODSWEAT they might’ve just been explainingwhat it took to make it. (Or they could’ve just been talking about those liveshows.) And when they stepped back into the studio in the late summer of 2018,they were ready again to do something new.
They spent eleven days locked in atHollywood’s legendary EastWest Studios (Brian Wilson, Ozzy Osbourne, Iggy Pop)with St Vincent/Chelsea Wolfe producer John Congleton, with all visitors bannedand all distraction eliminated. (Well, one blood relative has was allowedonce.) They had the instinct to delay the sessions until they knew they couldget Congleton, and when they met, they connected intensely and instantly, morelike co-conspirators than colleagues. They would even complete each other’ssentences, says drummer Luke Perine. With Congleton’s precision production,they found their own way between the powerful-but-too-polished sound of rightnow and the engaging-but-aging reinterpretations of classic punk/rock albums ofthe 60s and 70. And with Congleton’s limitless encouragement, they did thingsPlague Vendor never did before: chorused bass in endless waves,lightning-strike flashes of synth, motorik man-machine drums that sound inhumanand human at once and even a string section that’ll be a surprise if they everdo it live.
“We knew we could trust him to take usas far as we wanted,” says Perine, and inspired by the opportunity, the bandstretched and warped their songs, discovering a merciless sense of tension andapprehension that set every moment on edge. (That’s how they play live, too,says bassist Michael Perez: “It’s all a performance—building energy andreleasing it.”) Blaine broke out new vocal ideas, new vocal styles, new depthsof imagery and intensity that feel like flashbacks instead of pop songs. If BLOODSWEAT was a primalscream, By Night would be a precision attack. And, says Blaine, “I hadmy ammunition ready.”
The record starts like you’re in the studio with them. There’s a second ofchatter to check if you’re ready, and Perine’s drums, Perez’ bass and Rogersguitar aligning in formation. Then a snap dynamic change and anxiousheart-pounding piano as Blaine slides in, out of breath and into a screambefore the minute mark. That’s “New Comedown,” and the rest is just as stark,raw and out of control—even the love songs, when there are love songs. (“Yougotta have light to have dark,” says Blaine.) The brooding “All Of The Above”is an internal monologue disintegrating over a sci-fi punk drumbeat, whilesing-along-gone-wrong “Let Me Get High\Low” is an infinity mirror of echo,effects, illusion and delusion: “Toward the end,” says guitarist Jay Rogers,“it just gets cinematic.” The menacing “Night Sweats” is like the soundtrack tosome kind of crime spree as a cruise through town in a camouflage Cadillacstarts to fall apart. “Snakeskin Boots” is a shattering battle with temptationand closer “In My Pocket” is a song for the first bleak light of dawn—it’sexhausting and exhilarating at the same time, with a final rush moment thatscreeches to an instant stop. Think of it as the moment the sun finally comesup, which is exactly when an album called By Night has to end. As Blainesays: “Nothing cool happens during the day.”
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