Gvllow – Twin Flames


Gvllow is an interesting person. We don’t know his birth name, but we know he grew up in Southern California and cut his teeth in the punk scene before gravitating towards the underground rap movement in 2015 as a DJ for the likes of Lil Peep and Ghostmane. His first two EPs and 2018 debut album were more in the hip-hop and trap mould before he transitioned away from this sound in 2021 with a remarkable change of direction towards darkwave and post-punk on his Spiritwalker EP. You’ll find no traces of the dreadful trap beats that ruined pop music over the last two decades on his latest effort, but you might wonder if a time machine has sent you back to the 1980s.

A broken church organ introduces the first real song of the album, ‘It’s So Cold’, where the opening drumbeat is a replica of ‘Play for Today’ by The Cure. You can even hear the Seventeen Seconds-era guitar tone resonate in your headphones. Gvllow’s funereal voice comes to life in the chorus as the melancholy keyboards offer a glimpse of light, but you might scratch your head and question if there’s even one second of originality in the outcome. There’s a good tempo to this song, but it’s too enamoured with the 1980s. Again, The Cure are the main influence on the guitar work and sprinkling keyboard designs in ‘Leave Me Alone’. The vocals are low in their range but capable of ascending to a higher pitch. But why does this album sound like it came out of a week sitting at a computer, using FL Studio. This track is catchy – undeniably. It’s hard not to enjoy it.

Gvllow has a decent voice for a musician whose background is in drumming (he started at age nine). ‘Pray to God’ is an example of a strong vocal line to boost a song and justify the long “whoa-oh-oh-oah-oh” singalong. The guitar arpeggios are more subtle in their delivery here. Pre-programmed drums set to a constant upbeat tempo contrast with the mood and desperation of the lyrics to great effect. Melodies come easy to the author of this album. He captures the sense of loneliness that comes with a self-imposed isolated existence. This music is about realising the humanity of sorrow.

Unfortunately, the drum patterns appear to be the same on every track of this short LP. Maybe that’s not surprising for someone who used to create trap beats. The lack of tempo variation is a problem at the halfway point of this album. ‘Last Dance’ sounds like an attempt to merge Peter Hook (Joy Division/New Order) on bass and Andrew Eldritch (Sisters of Mercy) on vocals. By contrast, The Human League come to life in a simple and colourful synth hook that aims for the heart rather than the gut in ‘Night Love’. But the rhythm section here is your typical post-punk combination of upbeat drums and plectrum-coated basslines. ‘Other Side’ is warmer and more sentimental. Its fusion of keyboard and guitar leads it into a different paradigm to the other songs. Yet it falls into an innocuous experience after less than a minute.

Though predictable and not troubled by a strenuous imagination, Twin Flames is hardly unlistenable. You can hum along to these songs despite their sorrowful tones. Keyboard swells linger like regular throbs of pain in your hand in penultimate track, ‘Fell in Love with a Ghost’. You could imagine Greg Puciato and The Black Queen writing something like this on their next record.

Gvllow is a maverick, and he’s not afraid to take risks with his career direction. But this album feels more like a homage to the gothic rock greats rather than a contemporary piece of art.

JVB


Verdict


Release Date: 16/02/2024

Record Label: Sumerian Records

Standout tracks: Leave Me Alone; Say Goodbye; Other Side

Suggested Further Listening: The Chameleons – Script of the Bridge (1983), Naut – Hunt (2023), The Cure – Seventeen Seconds (1980)