It’s not so much that Tom Vek is a liar so much as he is misguided. Now I can hardly blame the boy. It does take a village, right? And all throughout the hipster hovels abounding about the Internet, the term “lo-fi” has been maligned and misapplied to a degree of irrelevance. So when Vek starts spouting on about his deliberately “lo-fi” sensibility, he can’t be held entirely accountable for the fact that his refined take on dancably-‘80s influence Anglo-pop has almost nothing to do with the genre he’s claiming.
Really it comes down to a matter of means versus ends. Sure, a good portion of his debut We Have Sound was recorded in a garage and all of it was supposedly laid down on reel-to-reel. Well and good all that, but how does it sound? Fucking superb, is how it sounds. If this is lo-fi, then so are The Killers, The Futureheads, Maximo Park, and the entire D.F.A. Records roster. May be it’s that sticky issue of an outside producer and several trips to other assorted studios, but Vek’s take on lo-fi sounds a lot more like his contemporaries than he projects. Even if the ends don’t suggest the proposed means, this is still an immensely enjoyable record with an impressive lack of lulls and lows.
Not that there’s any shortage of low-end. Indeed it’s bass that takes the lead and drives on a lot of this record. Big-bottomed, doubled-up bass harmonies balance album opener “C-C (You Set the Fire in Me)” between biting drums and Vek’s own smooth croon. Following up on the strength of that cut is the impossibly better “I Ain’t Saying My Goodbyes” with its James Murphy-worthy bass breakdown giving the only brief respite to the cataclysm of cymbals in this four-alarm floor-burner. Further highs in low are a snaky upright on “Cover” and the harmonics with organ interlude that simultaneously suggests both summer sunsets and fall shadows on “The Lower the Sun”.
While the album is riddled with such inspired bursts of brilliance, very few of them measure up to the frenzied perfection of “C-C (You Set the Fire in Me)” and “I Ain’t Saying My Goodbyes”. That front-loading makes for a few plods along the duration of We Have Sound. “If You Want” and “A Little Word in Your Ear” lay off the energy and lay back into a groove that’s a little more funky but not nearly as engaging.
Whenever the freneticism relents it forces focus on the liability of Vek’s lyrics. While he has a fine voice with a refreshingly earnest accent, he relies entirely on the momentum in his songs to mask the fact that he’s not saying much at all. This fault finally bottoms out in “On the Road” where the faux-dub slows until every line is achingly naked in its absurdity. Repetitive verses like “You said I was a back seat driver/ You said I was a back seat driver/ You said I was a back seat driver/ You said I was a back seat” sound amateur and improvised.
Still, I don’t think We Have Sound was ever intended to teach me anything. However ephemeral its pleasures, this is still a fun record well worth the frolic. It may not meet my puritan standards for the genre it’s aiming at, but I hardly think that matters. Vek has something hot on his hands here and he’d be better off disposing of whatever vestiges of indie credibility he hopes might help him hold onto that niche of fickle fans with angular haircuts for a little while longer. It’s time for him to start selling songs to car companies and cashing checks.
// Notes from the Road
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