There is a gaping hole in rock music between mindless dude rock and what gets foolishly called “literate” rock, and that murky in-between can be a pretty freeing ocean to swim through. Which is exactly what Vulture Whale does. This is a band that knows that the real spectacle of rock and roll is found in playing the music with all of its unruly sound and energy. When your songs are this good, and when they clatter along pushing against their tight and brilliant structures at every turn, well then you don’t need light shows or pyrotechnics. You also don’t need Pynchon references or 50-cent words.
In place of all that false staging, the band fills these songs with swirling guitars and strings of infectious hooks, but there’s a hint of loose adventure in Vulture Whale. Nothing ever gets sown up too tight. From the bluesy-bounce of “Through Eyes” to the grumbling moody guitars on “Tote It to Cleveland, AL”, Vulture Whale has a sound free of affectations. It rises from the band’s influences, surely—some of the ‘90s Sub Pop crunch is here, and the goofball rock of Big Dipper, filtered through a whiskey-soaked, kudzu-tangled southern steam—but Vulture Whale isn’t borrowing here. Every note they make is their own. And over those notes, Wes McDonald shows up as a versatile singer, and one hell of a confusing, and untrustworthy tour guide. He can be a shoulder-cinched nerd-rock banshee, or a goofy dude crooning on a crush like he does on the cougar tribute song “Head Turner”. But as silly as he can be—“I’ll let you know when you need old lady shoes,” he sings at one point—he reveals an earnest pride in his home Alabama and always pours out an energy that comes from a true love of music. Top to bottom, these songs are charming and funny and affecting and, most importantly, uniformly stunning. This album is the second self-titled release by the band, but when you’ve got a name as perfectly rock sounding as Vulture Whale, why would you need any other title? Especially when the second Vulture Whale is arguably the most compelling rock record of a young 2009.