The rise of “emo” or “angst” bands is a double-edged sword. On one hand you have groups who have been able to tread on that realm of emotions and push the boundaries out with some success. At the same time you have an equal number of groups (if not more) who have cashed in on the teen “I’m pissed off at the world because my cell phone doesn’t have text messaging” angst. The Vans Warped tour has in recent years had a few exceptions to what has sadly become the current norm. Which is where bands like Vaux find themselves: avoiding the machinery that is a major label, but at the same time trying to keep things afloat.
The Denver area band, fronted by lead singer Quentin Smith, comes off immediately more like Welsh trio Stereophonics, particularly with Smith’s loud, ragged and raspy delivery. However, this is a short reprieve from the loud, grating and screechy vocal. The music is good, veering from rock to emo to a rather slow-building post-chorus bombast during “Identity Theft”. Smith also has a little bit of Thom Yorke’s subtle, underplayed lilt. The track is the result of two ideas melding into one, with the loud, crunchy surefire rock winning out in the end. Also, the band has decided not to go with a single guitar or double guitar threat. Instead you have three guitars going at the same time courtesy of Greg Daniels, Chris Sorensen and Adam Tymn. However, they rarely step on each other or cram the other for space. From there, Vaux comes out with a finely-tuned and well thought out “Are You With Me”. If you’re not with them on this one, you’d be hard to please anyway. It’s a cocky piece of bravado that is nothing but hard, grinding guitars and a note-perfect rhythm section.
The same can be said for the winding but old-school, foot-stomping punk of “Cocaine James” which is equally influenced by punk groups as much as it is from early, classic British metal, particularly Sabbath. A thick, meaty groove brings it altogether while Smith is “singing along, singing along, singing along”. And things almost need to slow down a bit, which they do with the winding, mid-tempo journey dubbed “Need To Get By”, a song that Vaux just does enough with to get by. It’s a cross between Starsailor and Taking Back Sunday, a weird mix but an effective one nonetheless. And the band hits a bump in the road with “A Simple Man”; it could be a charmer, but instead opts for a large rock riff to try and save itself. It doesn’t. It’s perfect for a breather during a live set, but there is little about this ditty to get your knickers in a knot about.
After the album’s quasi-Snow Patrol moment called “The Last Report From…” (think a rather flaccid version of “Run” and you get the gist of it), Vaux gets back to an area that showcases its strengths, even if “Never Better” has a larger-than-life, Coldplay-ish quality throughout. The chorus reaches a somewhat cheesy, over-the-top feeling, but there is something appealing in the journey getting there. By now it’s apparent that the group has two faces, the softer and often pensive side shining a tad better than the raunchier side. Listen to the two sides of “The Rope, the Pistol, the Candlestick” if you need more proof. Here the band never breaks the tension with better than average results, but once the tune bubbles over, it’s nothing you haven’t heard before, and it diminishes the earlier portion. Fortunately, Vaux redeems itself with the punchy power pop nugget “Don’t Wait”, which slowly shifts into a fabulous higher gear. Vaux then works this format with the intense and urgent “Burn the Bandwagon” which would have a few fans jumping onto the band’s wagon. As it stands, the bandwagon should be much fuller with this record, one that doesn’t really pander to its audience.