With the release of the Elliptic EP in 2013, Leeds five-piece Vessels gave their fans a long-awaited glimpse into the direction they would be heading in for their third album. Moving away from the guitars that were present on their earlier records, the EP suggested that the band would be focusing largely on electronics. It also appeared to strip back some of the many layers of sound that graced their last record, 2011’s Helioscope.
Although the band’s second record was well-received, its pummeling post-rock invited obvious comparisons to bands such as Explosions In The Sky or Mogwai. While that is by no means a bad thing, Helioscope – and to a much lesser extent, debut album White Fields and Open Devices – often sounded like Vessels were overcomplicating things. That is not the case on third album Dilate, though, which arrives four years on with a lot of expectation.
Opener Vertical delivers a perfect, tension-filled introduction to the eight tracks that make up the album’s 50-minute running time, continuing in many ways from where the Elliptic EP left off. The song builds slowly over six minutes, with new layers constantly being added, starting with a repetitive beat and a taut, throbbing synth. As it rumbles on the stakes begin to rise and it concludes with a spell-binding cacophony of sound.
An almost seamless transition is then made into the one track that did make it on to Dilate from the EP that started this new journey, Elliptic. It’s not hard to see why it made the cut, either, with its mesmerising rhythm leaving no doubt about Vessels’ ability to transform their sound from post-rock to electronic over nine engaging minutes. The intensity of the percussion, in particular, is almost reminiscent of Jon Hopkins.
The intensity is kept up on Attica, where Vessels really start to flex their muscles. Beginning with an ominous synth beat that gradually grows, the song is a sweeping epic that demonstrates how effective the band can be when they simplify matters. It is a common theme throughout the record, with Echo In another example of Vessels’ new textural outlook, moulding a number of delicious melodies together to create an intoxicating end product.
On Monos, which was released as a single, is another album highlight, making the most of pulsating synths and sporadic vocals from Snow Fox, who adds a heavenly touch of class to the quintet’s sound. While On Monos is a relaxing interlude, Glass Lake ramps up the tension once again. The track initially sounds like it’s stuck on repeat, before it unravels into a devilishly dark synth beat – complete with clattering drums.
Yet for all of its strengths, Dilate falls short of being a great record. In the grand scheme of things, Vessels are not doing anything particularly new – even though their electronic transformation is a different direction for them. As You Are is the most obvious example of the band falling into electronic tropes, with the female vocals adding very little to the rather forgetful composition.
However, while Vessels may not necessarily bring anything drastically different to the electronic genre, Dilate is still a captivating record. The years of work that have gone into it are evidenced by the album’s precision and thoughtful pacing, which ensures that it is something to be listened to as a whole. Vessels took a bold step in experimenting with their sound and Dilate not only proves it was the right decision, but suggests there is much more to come.