A trip to Athens was what it took for Drab Majesty to create their new album, Modern Mirror. It’s a contemporary re-telling of Ovid’s “Narcissus,” the classic Greco-Roman myth about a man so obsessed with himself, he dies staring into his own reflection while the devastated nymph who can’t shake him out of her head watches from afar.
Just as Echo, only able to repeat what she had already heard, pined for the egotistic Narcissus, Modern Mirror, the group’s third full-length and first since 2017’s The Demonstration, opens with a repetitive pleading anthem, which sees lead singer Deb Demure beg, “Don’t say you love / Take my heart, take it now / If I don’t say I love who you are now / Who are you now?” The homage to the Greek myth is subtle, but obvious for history buffs, impossible to drown out the allusions as the record progresses, an album that is at times droning and foreboding and at others, fleeting in love. This continues on “The Other Side,” for example, where Deb Demure asks in the chorus, “Why should I just walk away / For you to come around another day? / Waiting for the time we will collide / When I meet you on the other side?” It’s easily read as Narcissus staring into his reflection, unable to leave as he perishes away. But it could also be read from Echo’s perspective, as she’s waiting for the day when she will unknowingly watch Narcissus die after spending her entire life in absolute agony waiting for him to love her back. That’s how it ends, by the way. Greek mythology is cruel.
Through all of the dark, synth flourishes, there’s a smidge of folk undertone throughout: Demure told Decibel in 2018 that “If you took a[n early] Drab song and put it to acoustic guitar, it would sound like a folk song.” Other than a base of guitar, synths and a drum machine, they’ve hit the nail on the head—it’s nearly impossible to truly figure out the Los Angeles-based group’s sound. At Paste, we’ve simply called them “synth-pop,” though others have described them as “alternative neo-goth,” “retrofuturist guitar pop” and “shoegaze,” three distinct genres that don’t share much on the Venn diagram, but one where Drab Majesty perfectly fit in the middle of.
Modern Mirror continues the darkwave ride that 2015’s Careless embarked upon and 2017’s The Demonstration progressed. Dark, mysterious lyrics juxtapose powerful, enveloping synths, suspending the listener somewhere between psychedelia, history, and reality. This record is about love, but a mostly cheerless, unfair sort of love, perhaps best shown on “Dolls in the Dark,” where Demure sings, “We sat alone in the early light drinking pinkish wine / Even every little thought that bound our lips to the clock seemed to melt in an instant / Eyes equidistant / And the music played in subtle shades of gold and beige and I lost you as the sun came out.”
Finger-picking abounds on this album, with standout bits on “Ellipsis” and “The Other Side” reminiscent of guitar greats Johnny Marr and Bernard Sumner. Drab Majesty collects craft from decades-past to create anew with what has become their signature sound: dark, futuristic, guitar-based synthwave. It’s an album that could be listened to while dancing alone in a headphoned trance or while drifting away to slumber.
On Modern Mirror, Deb Demure and Mona D have created a solid, exhilarating, exploration of an ancient Greek myth, from Echo’s longing to the demise of Narcissus. Hypnotic and immersive, Modern Mirror pulls the listener deep into its lore while keeping it fresh and contemporary. While the record is not necessarily groundbreaking, it doesn’t need to be. It’s everything we want from Drab Majesty.