Tides End may come as somewhat of a shock to those who’ve been following Sonny Kilfoyle’s MINKS project since succumbing to the bittersweet charm of past songs like “Funeral Song,” “Ophelia,” and “Cemetery Rain,” people who were also possibly waiting, hoping, for yet another album full of gothic indie pop in the vein of kindred precedents such as Felt, The Smiths, The Field Mice, and an earlier Cure circa Seventeen Seconds and Faith. But it’s been nearly three years since By The Hedge, and time changes everything… right? Upon first listen, the new songs do sound like a clean departure from the previous album, but as soon as the mid-80s bass throbs, echoing guitars, and synths meet Sonny Kilfoyle’s somber vocals and melody on “Everything’s Fine,” which follows up shock opener “Romans,” it all makes a little more sense: as much as Kilfoyle paid homage to abrasive punk turning into indie pop — think after Beat Happening but before The Field Mice — melding it with the dark guitar pop stylings of Felt’s Anglo-Americana and post-punk, he’s now shifted his attention from the moody late 70s towards the early-to-mid-80s experimental pop explorations that many of those very same bands ventured on with what came to be called New Wave. It’s almost as if “Romans,” probably the most distinctly retro-electronic track here, was made the opener to immediately establish a break from past material, providing a distinct opener that would still ease into a relatively more recognizable sound aesthetic.
After all, it didn’t take long for a nascent, post-Ian Curtis New Order to move past a stark, bare Joy Division sound after their debut Movement; Bauhaus quickly started experimenting with dub and reggae as early as Mask alongside that horror classic title track; Siouxsie and friends weren’t always making songs like “Cities In Dust;” and Echo & the Bunnymen fans probably weren’t expecting songs like “Lips Like Sugar” or “Bring On The Dancing Horses” after Crocodiles and Heaven Up Here. The list goes on and on (and it’s quite an interesting one too), but most of all, it’s the change in an almost overall sound — when acts like The Human League, OMD, Ultravox, and Depeche Mode weren’t the only ones making ample use of keyboards — and Kilfoyle captures this incredibly well while retaining a still-in-formation yet already distinct MINKS sound, much in the way many formerly post-punk bands retained their own certain darkness throughout.
In essence, Kilfoyle weaved a musical narrative of sorts, spanning the entirety of his output thus far and beyond: the development of his songwriting referencing, the movement many songwriters made from the late 70s and into the 80s, the gloom theatrics somehow made possible by punk morphing into the playful and colorful treading of new territories at a time when synthesizers and the like were available like never before, the incorporation of a still-developing idiom of electronic music within pop and mainstream. “Margot” is further indication of this shift, employing perfectly timed, expertly aligned layers of percussion, synth, and guitars to build an emotional rush of a retro-summer pop song, like a strange Oingo Boingo/Echo & the Bunnymen hybrid, even as it reveals itself to be a thoroughly melancholic, serenading lament in remembrance of love and loss: “Your blue eyes/ Have me dreaming of the West Coast/ Just like Hollywood/ I’ll never sleep tonight.” Elsewhere, “Weekenders” and “Doomed And Cool” might seem like detours, particularly in their lyrical content, but they turn out to be nostalgic paeans to youth and summer days, evocative of a possibly consciously oblivious or naïve aspect ascribed to New Wave culture.
But it’s “Hold Me Now” and “Ark Of Life,” standouts on Tides End, that bring everything full circle, running through the latter half of the album, when the glum spirit of By The Hedge is more noticeably heard and felt, resulting in arguably the most complete MINKS songs to date. “Hold Me Now” starts off with a classic gothic synth pop line reminiscent of old Xymox, simultaneous with somewhat muted though abrasive guitars, before Kilfoyle’s soothing, yet sobering and bittersweet lyrics kick in: “Hold me now/ For a second/ Don’t let me go/ There’s no life in the city/ When you’re not with me.” As much as “Hold Me” lingers on loss, however, the dreamy up-tempo “Ark Of Life” seems to revel in love; oblivious to what comes after, it’s a modern-day “Just Like Heaven,” even at less than four minutes long. If it could be said that Tides End is the product of a songwriter with something to prove, it could only be meant in the most positive sense of the phrase.