The bleak command of Yama Uba’s debut Yama Uba
Reviewed by Damon

Enjoy some retro minor-key goth rock

The Yamauba is a character from Japanese folklore—sort of a mountain witch with a sinister yearning for children. On “Silhouettes,” Yama Uba press the bruise on the Yamauba’s heart.

The sound is very Siouxsie and the Banshees: dark and commanding British-inflected goth rock veined with post punk. It’s sometimes moody at a party; at other times, it’s affecting a defiant, self-conscious balance under a broken streetlamp.

Yama Uba is a project by longtime collaborators Akiko Sampson and Winter Zora of Oakland, California. Their debut, “Silhouettes,” opens with the love-deprived synthpop beat and synthesizers of “Disappear.” It feels right when the guitar surfaces in echoey, reverb-dipped notes, followed by the charismatic vocal: “Constant erasure keeps me guessing, no lines to trace, figures to face / It’s just disappointment / I’m just disillusioned." Sampson’s voice is deep and full of melodrama. She urges repeatedly, her voice hypnotic like the vampire’s: “Come back to this / Come back to me.”

Then comes “Shapes,” probably my favorite song on “Silhouettes.” Its mid-tempo darkness explores the guilt of personality disorder. The second verse asks, “Do you hate me?”: then the chorus hits—“Shapes! / You watch me change, take all my pain / Oh, Shapes!” Brooding notes cut from the guitar touch a nerve. Tinny reverb and saturated echo produce a sound both full and empty. The guitars can sound pretty good, but that vocal is the best thing on this album. It can come in cold, or it can come in hot.

Energy sharpens the song “Façade”: the distortion is up, and voltage burns through the drums. The vocal cadence tightens and layers into a barricade. This is one of the album’s louder songs—a passionless menace. The last song, “Angel,” pulses with bass and resolve and fatalism and need. The music becomes a vehicle for Sampson’s vocals, charged with regret and reckoning: “Angel, I treat you so wrong!” A noirish sax cries to the song’s final minute or so, harmonizing with the moon.

“Silhouettes” is out now in all formats through Psychic Eye and Ratskin Records.

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