There’s no feeling in the world quite like anticipation. Whether it’s a pleasurable itch in the centre of your brain as you await the arrival of something you’ve been looking forward to, or a sickening knot in your stomach outside the dentist’s office, anticipation colours everything. The closer the moment of truth gets the more intoxicated one becomes by it, and the prospect of being reunited with something or someone that you thought was gone forever is heady indeed.
Five years ago, multi-instrumentalist Tom Vek disappeared completely into the applause that greeted his extraordinarily accomplished debut album We Have Sound, and nothing, literally nothing, has been heard of him since. Dark ideas had circulated that he was a burn-out at 25, Syd Barrett for the 21st century. Nobody just vanishes like that for no good reason.
As it turns out he was indeed writing and recording that whole time, and with little fanfare he dropped his first single since 2006 off on YouTube in mid-April. Its title would seem to be a comment on, or explanation of his absence: does he really consider music-making to be A Chore? The third track in on his new album Leisure Seizure, it’s a simultaneously bracing and familiar churn of treated synths, crisp drumming, and vaguely disillusioned, paranoid lyrics: “What you perceive as life/ Is no more than a chore.” It seems that turning the big three-oh hasn’t made him any more cheerful.
In Leisure Seizure’s opening track Hold Your Hand, he declares himself (slightly jarringly) “A lost cowboy waiting for the truth’ over jagged, staccato rhythms. Aroused is a somewhat Oriental-sounding game of musical snakes and ladders in which the object of his attention is both a book to be read and a ‘light turned-on’. Since C-C (You Set the Fire in Me), the first song on We Have Sound, Vek has always addressed himself to an ever-present, often formless ‘you’, sometimes a lover, sometimes a rival. It becomes apparent on A Chore that he may well be gazing into the mirror this time. The song’s mantra “You’re not really listening to me” is either a petulant cuss of the industry machine (as it seems to be in the gender-bending, mildly satirical video) or disguised self-reproach.
So far so Vek, but it’s on We Do Nothing that he ups the ante a little. Over an iridescent loop of ice-cream-van chimes and a phat synth bass line, he points the accusing finger at himself once more: “I can’t believe you’ve taken all of this time!” is a line his fans may well brandish in his direction. By the swampy chug of World Of Doubt and retro synth stomp of Seizmic the differences between this album and the first start to become apparent. The production is denser, more claustrophobic this time around. He’s painted sonic detail into every corner of the palette, which leaves little breathing space even as it dazzles. A.P.O.L.O.G.Y. is the weakest track, partly because of this thick, stodgy production and also because it finds Vek’s songwriting at its clumsiest and most leaden; bad news when combined with a vocal style that has deepened, flattened and started to tend towards the bovine, something that no amount of ping-ponging stereo effects can quite disguise on Someone Loves You either.
Close Mic’d is the first proper let-up in the breakneck pace, a hushed heat-haze mood piece which never rises above a suspended sense of tension. On A Plate is largely undistinguished, except for some dark wit in the lyrical imagery (“So much for my pool of thought/ It couldn’t even drown a child”), while You Need To Work Your Heart Out is mainly notable for a lovely wash of cymbalom and/or tubular bells which floats pleasantly above the slightly plodding song itself like an early-morning mist. It’s up to Too Bad to guide us out of the album on an upward escalator of joyous electronic birdsong: joyous that is until you notice that Vek is once again bemoaning his own efforts in what can only be a lyrical autopsy of the album we’ve just listened to: “I tried and I failed this time…this worthless equipment I blame.” It’s not that bad, Tom. But is it worth five years of anticipation?
Both yes and no, of course. What other answer could there be? Remember that We Have Sound was an impressive debut, but it wasn’t quite the flawless diamond of popular memory. So it is with Leisure Seizure. Detractors will find plenty here to castigate: the sort of buzz that a prodigal son like Tom Vek will generate from the press makes it inevitable. But it’d be a shame if the flaws that have been pointed out here (including over-length: it would certainly have been a stronger comeback at eight or nine songs) blot out the album’s various strengths and pleasures. A pop scene with an active Tom Vek in it firing his myriad of ideas at the canvas is an infinitely more interesting and fun place to be than one where everyone is mourning his absence.