Vessels: White Fields and Open Devices

Vessels' debut is positively brimming with ideas, some more innovative than others, but all executed with the flair and assurance of an outfit who have imitation far from mind.


White Fields and Open Devices

Label: Cuckundoo
US Release Date: 2008-07-18
UK Release Date: 2008-07-18

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.


The year in song reflected the state of the world around us. Here are the 70 songs that spoke to us this year.

70. The Horrors - "Machine"

On their fifth album V, the Horrors expand on the bright, psychedelic territory they explored with Luminous, anchoring the ten new tracks with retro synths and guitar fuzz freakouts. "Machine" is the delicious outlier and the most vitriolic cut on the record, with Faris Badwan belting out accusations to the song's subject, who may even be us. The concept of alienation is nothing new, but here the Brits incorporate a beautiful metaphor of an insect trapped in amber as an illustration of the human caught within modernity. Whether our trappings are technological, psychological, or something else entirely makes the statement all the more chilling. - Tristan Kneschke

Keep reading... Show less

Electronic music is one of the broadest-reaching genres by design, and 2017 highlights that as well as any other year on record. These are the 20 best albums.

20. Vitalic - Voyager (Citizen)

Pascal Arbez-Nicolas (a.k.a. Vitalic) made waves in the French Touch electro-house scene with his 2005 debut, OK Cowboy, which had a hard-hitting maximalist sound, but several albums later, Voyager finds him launching into realms beyond at his own speed. The quirky, wallflower vocals and guitar snippets employed throughout Voyager drop a funk that brings to mind WhoMadeWho or Matthew Dear if they had disco-pop injected between their toes. "Levitation" is as pure a slice of dance floor motivation as theoretically possible, a sci-fi gunfight with a cracking house beat sure to please his oldest fans, yet the album-as-form is equally effective in its more contemplative moments, like when Miss Kitten's vocals bring an ethereal dispassion to "Hans Is Driving" to balance out its somber vocoder or the heartfelt cover of "Don't Leave Me Now" by Supertramp. Voyager may infect you with a futuristic form of Saturday Night Fever, but afterwards, it gives you a hearty dose of aural acetaminophen to break it. - Alan Ranta

Keep reading... Show less

Hitchcock, 'Psycho', and '78/52: Hitchcock's Shower Scene'

Alfred Hitchock and Janet Leigh on the set of Psycho (courtesy of Dogwoof)

"... [Psycho] broke every taboo you could possibly think of, it reinvented the language of film and revolutionised what you could do with a story on a very precise level. It also fundamentally and profoundly changed the ritual of movie going," says 78/52 director, Alexandre O. Philippe.

The title of Alexandre O. Philippe's 78/52: Hitchcock's Shower Scene (2017) denotes the 78 set-ups and the 52 cuts across a full week of shooting for Psycho's (1960) famous shower scene. Known for The People vs. George Lucas (2010), The Life and Times of Paul the Psychic Octopus (2012) and Doc of the Dead (2014), Philippe's exploration of a singular moment is a conversational one, featuring interviews with Walter Murch, Peter Bogdanovich, Guillermo del Toro, Jamie Lee Curtis, Osgood Perkins, Danny Elfman, Eli Roth, Elijah Wood, Bret Easton Ellis, Karyn Kusama, Neil Marshall, Richard Stanley and Marli Renfro, body double for Janet Leigh.

Keep reading... Show less

The Force, which details the Oakland Police Department's recent reform efforts, is best viewed as a complimentary work to prior Black Lives Matter documentaries, such 2017's Whose Streets? and The Blood Is at the Doorstep.

Peter Nicks' documentary The Force examines the Oakland Police Department's recent reform efforts to curb its history of excessive police force and systemic civil rights violations, which have warranted federal government oversight of the Department since 2003. Although it has its imperfections, The Force stands out for its uniquely equitable treatment of law enforcement as a complex organism necessitating difficult incremental changes.

Keep reading... Show less

Mary Poppins, Mrs. Gamp, Egyptian deities, a Japanese umbrella spirit, and a supporting cast of hundreds of brollies fill Marion Rankine's lively history.

"What can go up a chimney down but can't go down a chimney up?" Marion Rankine begins her wide-ranging survey of the umbrella and its significance with this riddle. It nicely establishes her theme: just as umbrellas undergo, in the everyday use of them, a transformation, so too looking at this familiar, even forgettable object from multiple perspectives transforms our view of it.

Keep reading... Show less
Pop Ten
Mixed Media
PM Picks

© 1999-2017 All rights reserved.
Popmatters is wholly independently owned and operated.