Seattle synth duo Crater have a thing for the witching hour. Their last album was called Talk to Me So I Can Fall Asleep, and at the outset of “Physical,” from their latest outing Unearth, Cecilia Gomez sings, “You’re the one I call at night / When it’s too late, and we’re the only ones awake.” Their music suits the mood: Talk to Me was a collection of hushed, throbbing songs where bubbling layers of electronics were augmented by ringing, slashing guitars, and clattering rhythms. Unearth, by contrast, is leaner and quieter. Most of its 11 songs contain little beyond Gomez’s aching alto and a bed of burbling, minor-key synths. When bandmate Kessiah Gordon’s guitars do appear, they’re so heavily treated they disappear into the electronics. The scaled-down approach suits the subject matter: most of Unearth deals with love, companionship, betrayal, and obsession, all of it expressed in language as bare and minimal as the arrangements surrounding them.
All of this would dissolve into an indistinct haze if Gomez and Gordon weren’t such gifted melodic songwriters. Throughout Unearth, they use the pared-down instrumentation as a backdrop for rich, weaving vocal lines. “Brood” scans like a minimalist take on The Knife, with rippling deep-bass synths and Gomez’s voice turning chilling pirouettes on the verses. The two-part “Void” trades electronics for dripping-icicle piano, tracing the outline of a fraught relationship; in the first part, Gomez reckons with a romance in crisis, in the second the damage has deepened and physical contact has become cold and mechanical. Throughout Unearth, Gomez refuses to dress up emotional damage in metaphor—in the synthwave-y “Fortress,” she confesses, “You know I can’t be without you.” But for all of Unearth’s emotional candor, Gomez never comes across as a victim. Instead, the album plays out like the inner monologue of someone determined to work through loss, refusing to minimize the pain it’s caused, but resolving to find the strength to move forward.