A solo album by circumstance rather than design, the beautifully titled “Neon Noir” is the long-awaited solo debut by Finnish vocalist and multi-instrumentalist Ville Valo (or VV). This album sees VV at his most creative and unrestrained with his craft, the alone time in the studio giving him free rein to showcase all the shades of romantic melancholy that he is so well known for. “Neon Noir” came out on January 13th, 2023, via Heartagram Records and is distributed by Spinefarm Records/Universal Music Group.
I can’t stop wondering how different this would sound if more musicians – other than Ville Valo and co-producer Tim Palmer – were involved in the creation of “Neon Noir,” how different the vibe and feel would be… because when an artist does a solo album, there’s usually a team behind him/her that brings that album to life and makes you wonder how much of the music came from the artist themselves and how much is the influence from other people. However, as is the case with Charlotte Wessels’ “Tales from Six Feet Under” albums, “Neon Noir” was also put together on a track-by-track basis, with no external help except for the mixing and mastering. So, we get to experience an unadulterated version of Ville Valo’s music and, for me, stepping into his mesmerizing sonic universe is always a delight.
The follow-up to 2020’s surprise EP, “Gothic Fennica Vol. 1,” sees the Finnish artist bathing in the same melancholy waters as before, but with a warmer and more inviting outlook on life and love this time around. Poetic lyrics, gorgeous vocals, ethereal moodiness, and cinematic soundscapes that fall somewhere between BLACK SABBATH and DEPECHE MODE, with more than a dash of ’80s nostalgia are the main pillars of this album. Still, each song is such an individual experience on its own because no two tracks follow the same approach or have the same vibe, which is very invigorating to experience as a listener. This in turn makes the album feel fresh even after repeated listens, as you always get to discover new layers, textures, and sonic complexities, which lead to a great playability value. But then again, Valo has always been a brilliant songwriter and his knack for composing both soulful love songs (“Loveletting”) as well as moodier pieces (“Saturnine Saturnalia”) is on full display in “Neon Noir.”
On the other hand, his music has always been an acquired taste and this album is no different. From the vibrancy of “Echolocate Your Love” and the radiant feel of “Run Away from the Sun” through upbeat “Neon Noir,” Goth-pop number “The Foreverlost,” the synth riffs of “Salute the Sanguine,” and all the way to the experimental vibe of both instrumental piece “Zener Solitaire” and meandering “Vertigo Eyes,” this album is a testament to why Ville Valo, in his idiosyncrasy, is such a polarizing yet charismatic figure on the music scene. Ten years after HIM’s swansong, “Tears on Tape” (2013), his music once again resonates with the same intensity and passion, regardless of whether the distortion on the guitars is there or it has been replaced by a pulsating bass, an acoustic moment, or an ‘80s synth melody, because the soul is definitely still present. Such tracks as subdued “Baby Lacrimarium,” heartfelt “In Trenodia,” or wistful “Heartful of Ghosts” are definite examples where, no matter the soundscape, the emotions are bubbling closer and closer to the surface with each note he sings.
It goes without saying that a big part of this album’s undeniable appeal is his voice, which is as magnetic and touching as ever, if not even more so since the instrumental parts are somewhat softer, thus leaving more room for the vocal melodies to flourish and take center stage. Either he gently croons “come love me ’til it hurts” or yearningly sings “sing me a love song for the lost and lonely,” VV brings back a sensibility and a particular way of doing music that only he can master to near perfection. His 2019 project with Finnish band AGENTS, which resulted in both an album (“Ville Valo & Agents”) and a tour around Finland, made Valo feel more at ease with these types of gentler melodies and he brought that tenderness to “Neon Noir.” However, these melodies are dressed in a more retro soundscape that allow for many musical throwbacks to not just BLACK SABBATH and DEPECHE MODE as mentioned before, but also KYUSS and THE CURE, influences that can be pinpointed in the fuzzy/wobbly guitar sound that gives the album a heavier edge at times.
To sum it up, “Neon Noir” proves that even without a proper band backing him, Ville Valo‘s world-building skills are as sharp as ever, not just when it comes to the lyrics and vocal performance, but also the instrumentals and general soundscape of the album. As such, the songs are deeply authentic and unapologetically in line with what he has done in the past but without ever feeling like a desperate try at making HIM 2.0. No, this is a different monster altogether, even if cut from the same gloomy cloth. Haunting juxtapositions of words, sounds, and moods make “Neon Noir” a masterstroke of superb songwriting and lush sonic diversity tied together by a polished production, which establishes VV as a unique individual that has once again created something that is wonderfully its own universe.
Written by Andrea Crow
1. Echolocate Your Love
2. Run Away From The Sun
3. Neon Noir
5. The Foreverlost
6. Baby Lacrimarium
7. Salute The Sanguine
8. In Trenodia
9. Heartful Of Ghosts
10. Saturnine Saturnalia
11. Zener Solitaire
12. Vertigo Eyes
Heartagram Records / Spinefarm Records / Universal Music Group