Pleasure Symbols Create Alluring Goth Pop on “Closer and Closer Apart”

One of the more tantalizing releases in the last few years was a brief four-song EP from an Australian band called Pleasure Symbols released in 2016. I knew nothing about the band except for what was on the record, which was this hazy, goth/shoegaze-influenced darkwave that was stylish and intriguing. Three years later, they’ve surfaced again with their first full-length, Closer and Closer Apart, after some lineup and sound changes. But despite the overhauls, that core of the band’s style is still there, and this will end up being one of the year’s best albums in this shoegaze and dream pop realm.

The sound on Closer and Closer Apart is more clear, with Jasmine Dunn’s vocals actually being decipherable instead of buried in the sound and mumbled like on that first EP. That change removes a bit of the alluring mystery they had initially, but it’s probably a worthwhile tradeoff in terms of appealing to a slightly wider audience and making more traditionally expressive music. They’ve also moved from the creepier darkwave style into a more familiar goth-dream-pop sound that is inspired by about half the bands that existed in the 1980s.

Despite the move into very well-worn territory, Pleasure Symbols maintain a clear sense of identity on this album by zeroing in on a very specific aesthetic and executing it on song after song with total confidence. The shimmering guitar, the rumbling bass and Dunn’s dreamy-yet-forceful lyrics are exactly what I like about this style of music, especially when it’s combined with this kind of strong pop songwriting. The best songs like “Image Reflected,” “Dissociation,” and “Heavy Breathing” combine major hooks with inward-looking lyrics that touch on the themes you’d expect from any self-respecting goth band: love, control, darkness, suffering, etc. None of the concepts here are new, but it’s been awhile since they’ve been done with this level of thought and craft.

#8: Pleasure Symbols – “Pleasure Symbols”

Pleasure Symbols is one of those bands that comes out of nowhere with a fully-formed, distinctive aesthetic. The duo from Brisbane makes icy, goth-tinged synth rock that combines like 30 different styles into something that feels like a genre of its own. Pleasure Symbols is their first 12-inch and it’s just four songs in about 16 minutes, but I listened to almost every song on repeat at some point.

The defining choice Pleasure Symbols make is taking a page out of the shoegaze playbook and burying their vocals deep in the mix. The cost is that it’s hard to make out a lot of the lyrics, but it adds to the band’s mysterious, seductive quality and is part of what made their album very replayable for me. Their songs rely heavily on repetition, looping one or two synth parts over and over, which along with the vocal mixing makes this a hypnotizing listen.