On Vanity Is Forever, Geoffrey O’Connor, the former frontman for Melbourne’s Crayon Fields, has ditched his previous band’s lithesome and coaxing sound for a rigid world of synths and stark self-reflection. It’s hard to talk about the album without mentioning the 1980s coming-of-age film soundtracks that it seems largely indebted to. Vanity Is Forever is populated with exes, spurned advances, and lovers waiting, and waiting, and waiting.
Each melodrama unfolds under dreamy synths, programmed drums, and echoing guitar stabs. The BPMs here are slower than the post-punk and new wave songs of those aforementioned soundtracks, and O’Connor would probably fall closer to the Thompson Twins’ “If You Were Here” than the Pyschedelic Furs’ “Pretty In Pink” in the Hughes canon.
There are very few happy endings on Vanity Is Forever. On one of the album’s last tracks, “Soon,” O’Connor doesn’t seem to care anymore. “I’ve lost my strength tonight,” he sings. “I’m not sure I want it back.” On “Now and Then,” he sings about “a good time you won’t mind forgetting,” over painfully slow drum machine beats and a chorus effect-dripping guitar. The song’s images (“a mattress on your floor,” “the midday sun trac[ing] softly on her wall”) evoke an agonizing past.
While the record shares the production values of many contemporary ’80s gazers and could get grouped in with some of chillwave’s offshoots, O’Connor’s minimal pop is far less lively than the teeming sonic world envisioned on something like John Maus’s We Must Become The Pitiless Censors Of Ourselves. Vanity Is Forever is understated and bare, an oxygen-deprived world with only super-sized synths and O’Connor’s bleak narratives.
“Whatever Leads Me To You,” with maybe the biggest hook on the album, offers some hope for the future. O’Connor admits that he’s willing to work for love. “I’m not begging/ I’m not above waiting/ I’m not above crying,” he sings. Here’s hoping this last resort works.