The Vintage Caravan
Photo: Courtesy of Napalm Records

The Vintage Caravan Return with Retro Rock Excellence on ‘Monuments’

The Vintage Caravan’s Monuments is a pristine example of how to do retro rock right. It’s an essential listen with an invigorating take on those older styles.

Monuments
The Vintage Caravan
Napalm Records
16 April 2021

These days, there’s no shortage of rock bands aiming to recapture the seductive coolness of 1970s psychedelic rock, heavy progressive rock, and blues-rock. However, few do it as captivatingly and confidently as Icelandic trio the Vintage Caravan. Influenced by iconic artists like Gentle Giant, Deep Purple, Cream, Led Zeppelin, and Rush, the group have always done a remarkable job of paying homage to those classic subgenres while continuously evolving their characteristic elements. On their latest LP, Monuments, they outdo themselves once again by crafting the most thoroughly engaging, sophisticated, and cohesive record of their career.

Naturally, Monuments picks up where 2018’s Gateways left off, yet it goes further in repeatedly dishing out irresistible hooks and entrancingly powerful and multifaceted arrangements. Ian Davenport once again produces it, and they reportedly spent 22 consecutive days recording it at the revered Hljóðriti Studios (finishing just before the pandemic began). Understandably, they credit recent festival gigs (Hellfest, Wacken, and Roadburn) and a series of shows alongside Swedish progressive metal titan Opeth as helping mature their songwriting and playing. Indeed, Monuments sees the band at the top of their game, doubling down on their greatest trademarks with more textural vibrancy and melodic intrigue than ever before.

The opener “Whispers” does a superb job exemplify those qualities. After situating itself with some surreal sound effects, it erupts into a vivacious and arid array of fiery guitar riffs, punchy rhythms, and sleek singing. There’s a slight Southern rock coarseness and attitude throughout as well, and it’s nearly impossible not to get sucked in by its soaring harmonies and winding instrumentation. It’s just intricate and unpredictable enough to surprise and impress routinely, but it’s also accessible enough to appeal to just about any fan of rock music.

Luckily, several other tracks walk a similar path, such as the equally addicting boisterousness of “Can’t Get You Off My Mind”. There’s also the notably rugged and ensnaring “Crystallized”, whose midway detours into trippy tranquility—complete with a delightfully smooth guitar solo—oozes vintage elegance (no pun intended). It also concludes with a mesh of acoustic arpeggios and windy ambiance that adds substantial variety and moodiness to the experience. Afterward, “Forgotten” gallops along with unstoppable fervor and flair, while “Torn in Two” almost seems like an intentional nod to “Whipping Post” by the Allman Brothers Band.

Likewise, the lighter and cozier “Clarity” (which closes the LP) conjures the warm acoustic richness of the Eagles and America. It’s quite graceful and contemplative, with a lot of emotion and dynamic breadth, making it feel like a properly weighty finale. A couple of other tunes—“This One’s for You” and “Hell”—also provide a softer touch with their leisurely romantic waltz and heartfelt angst, respectively. The record would benefit from at least a little more luscious downtime, but the few instances here definitely flesh out the overarching journey in significant ways.

The Vintage Caravan have never been better than on Monuments. It’s clear from beginning to end that the trio is firing on all cylinders since each track is full of poised playing and focused songwriting. Although the sequence can be a tad samey at times, it’s consistently enjoyable and laudable, as it simultaneously refines and expands upon what made its predecessors so fetching. As such, Monuments is a pristine example of how to do retro rock right, and it’s an essential listen for anyone longing for an invigorating take on those older styles.

RATING 8 / 10
PopMatters