Album Reviews

The Vatican Cellars – The Same Crooked Worm

(Where It's At Is Where You Are) UK release date: 22 November 2010

“Everyone dies and it’s nothing special,” says Simon Hughes, the principal songwriter for this shamelessly gloomy folk outfit from London. On their debut LP, The Same Crooked Worm, the band might be shameless about their subject matter but it seems they’re afraid to break any new ground, for every number is a three -minute, harmless folk song. This wouldn’t have been as noticeable or considered a detriment if the songs all had strong melodies. And there are a couple of standouts. But most play by the numbers with a half-hearted melody to cradle Hughes’s self-indulgent lyrics.

The band takes every lesson from the book of Nick Drake, though their instrumentation has sunnier inflections. Hughes has even stated in interviews the importance of Drake’s music to him. While it all reads like a Drake descendent, the band themselves end up losing the beautiful refinement that legend was known for. Each song starts with the same approach: an acoustic guitar, used to build up from. The only thing that really changes from song to song is which instrument plays as the counter-under melody beneath Hughes’s vocals. This varies from strings, bells, or both. However, a memorable moment does occur on the third track in, The Wreck Of Alba. They create a pleasingly baroque, folk-rock sound. The strings simmer along after each turn of phrase that creates a tasteful tension. Yet it doesn’t occur again in any of the other tracks.

It seems as if Simon H. (as he is referred to in his bio, along with other band mates, such as “The Birthday Girl”) wanted the lyrics to be the frontrunner of the musical dynamic. However, thanks to the mostly coma-inducing arrangements, the words go unnoticed, just melding in the backburner with the dependable, thin-sounding acoustic guitar.

The band’s formation reads like a sappy romantic comedy with a dark twist, one that could be figured out from its movie trailer. Boy meets girl after they both lose someone close to them; they form a band to vent their grievances and live sorrowfully ever after together. Like their story, their album could be summed up in one song – Lullaby, to pick the most fitting. It’s the one-minute closer that has the most interesting melody on the album, yet they choose to make it the shortest and save it for last.

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The Vatican Cellars – The Same Crooked Worm