Darkwave duo Clay Rendering left their longtime home Michigan for Los Angeles following their last record Snowborn, and the move is reflected in the name of their latest LP: California Black Vows. Even with a change of scenery, it’s still dark and icy, a record that feeds off what remains of seedy LA noir. Vocalist and guitarist Mike Connelly and his wife Tara, who plays synth and also sings, are still the Midwestern winter core, his strumming and crooning countering her cold touch and colder voice. New bassist Sera Timms (Black Mare, Ides of Gemini) and new drummer Joe Potts (Sollilja) flesh out California Black Vows’ rockier direction, adding a Cali goth assurance that they hate the heat as much as the Connellys do.
Lycia has always been a big influence on Clay Rendering, once agreeing with a Quietus interviewer that they sound like a cross between them and Celtic Frost. California Black Vows feels like Lycia in a more rock context—sort of like how Type O Negative made a Lycian metal record with October Rust. Opener “Blood Into Wine” trods along with cold, airy synths and oddly Melvins-esque vocal harmonies from the Connellys, turning Lycia’s lush winter air into a somber snow dirge. They disappear further into the frost on “Cities of the World,” with the low register of the synths less welcoming and more foreboding. Even with Potts’ dimly lit toms, “Black Vows” feels the most like Clay Rendering of old, with Tara leading on vocals in a dark seance, this time trading trees for concrete towers. It feels endless, like something will arise from the shadows if you keep with the ritual long enough.
California Black Vows isn’t thawed out; it’s the sound of very, very slow melting. The goth-rock core is more exposed, still surrounded by a thick layer of chilly isolationism. There’s darkness all around us, but it makes the world blurry rather than pitch black; Black Vows reflects that reality in its combination of the sublime, the rocking, and the terrifying. Midwesterners moving to LA to find a future in rock is one of music’s most lasting foolish dreams, but Clay Rendering subvert that trope too; their bleakness is far richer for going West.