It’s entirely likely that there are no longer any adjectives at all which one can use to accurately and appropriately describe the music that has come to lay claim to the ‘post-rock’ handle without sounding utterly, exhaustedly clichéd. Epic, glacial, bombastic, majestic, cacophonous, soaring, spectral, glimmering, transcendent—all reside in the corner of the lexicon marked ‘Explosions in the Sky’, but also in the spot that a music reviewer dare use only tentatively, knowing full well that the Internet is jam-packed with overzealous scribes all eager to compare the latest Sigur Rós release to some beautiful snow-capped mountain range.
Which makes writing about Vessels unduly tricky, because the five-piece are thoroughly deserving of the accolades, superlatives, and metaphors that have already lost their impact in being generously dished out to all and sundry. To call a band epic (Vessels are) is now tantamount to saying they can be bloody loud at times (Vessels can be) and that they know where their effects pedals are (Vessels do). Which isn’t saying very much at all.
What’s more, many of the ingredients Vessels chuck into their debut are of the same ilk as those employed by far more mediocre outfits, to a degree that to catalogue them—manic guitar screams, finger-tangling time changes, reverb drenched chords, dark electronica, and sparsely employed vocals—paints a picture of a band keen to emulate their more esteemed peers (Explosions, Mogwai, Battles, Russian Circles, Pelican—you’ve heard it all before, right?) rather than plough their own experimental field in a land littered with the corpses of second-rate instrumental rock bands. But it’s the way that the separate, familiar pieces of that picture slot together that places Vessels on a far more prestigious pedestal than most upstarts can lay claim to.
White Fields and Open Devices is positively brimming with ideas, some more innovative than others, but all executed with the flair and assurance of an outfit who have antecedent imitation far from mind. Stylistically, the album flitters at whim in a way that would suggest immaturity were it not for the wholly considered and demonstrably capable arrangements.
With this in mind, “Altered Beast”, a barely recognisable reworking of an earlier EP track, is an almost impossibly perfect entrée. Segueing clearly but smoothly from brooding synth and stabs of bass to intricate riffery and ultimately massive squalls of guitar, the piece is seven minutes long and makes no bones about its heritage, but throughout remains utterly enthralling and, as a whole, positively unique. Likewise, the pounding drums and chiming guitars of “Look at That Cloud!” aren’t exactly groundbreaking, but the aural eruption two minutes from time is genuinely stunning, regardless of whether you saw it coming or not.
And that’s just White Fields‘s more prosaic moments. Astute as they may be at atmospheric instrumental rock, Vessels’ longevity seems assured due primarily to the other facets of their canon. “A Hundred Times in Every Direction” sees the first vocals of the album, and while its plaintive, softly uttered harmonies bring a welcome emotional aspect, it is, perversely, the way they are mercilessly destroyed by a blisteringly loud guitar break that brings the most exhilaration. By comparison, both “Walking Through the Walls” and “Yuki” are subtle, measured experiments in branching out. The latter offers swells of piano beneath skittering beats, and is an exercise in restraint compared the rest of the album, despite its increased fervency towards its tail end, while “Walking Through the Walls” sees a continuation of this electro element but adjoins it to some sweet acoustic fingerpicking and a mellow vocal.
And it’s this combination of experimentation and sheer aplomb that makes Vessels such an exciting prospect. For a mature outfit, White Fields would be a sterling effort. As the Leeds quintet are debutants, the record is nothing short of a revelation.
// Notes from the Road
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