Album Reviews

Vessels – Retreat

(Cuckundoo) UK release date: 11 May 2009

Vessels are most frequently classed as a post-rock band and,indeed, many of the tracks here feature several of the key elements of whatone thinks of as a classic post-rock sound. So, the slowly building volume,grandeur and drama of Knee Jerk and Wave Those Arms, Airmen (Little Evilremix of the track from the first album), along with the latter’s bigcrashing drum rolls, and the distinctly 65daysofstatic-likefluttering synths in Descent all conform to expectations. What makes thisband more interesting and appealing, by a wide margin, is the wide anddisparate range of other elements that they also cram into their music.

Rarely feeling forced, or simply thrown in for the sake of it, nearlyevery track nevertheless comprises a quite startling range of devices,styles and effects. This is best exemplified on the quite brilliant Descent- a long and absorbing track which veers from skittish fluttering synthinterjections to a high seriousness of tone, to a surprise (andunintelligible) vocal appearing half way through, to a lovely melody fadingin and out.

All the while the music still manages to stay sufficientlyinclusive to carry the listener along on the journey, rather than leavingthem alienated or excluded. At times the rhythmic complexity is moredistinctly math rock (the Battles-like Fully Altered Beast, Wave Those ArmsAirmen), yet other tracks are leavened with beautiful, unadorned acousticguitar playing (Descent, Walking Through Walls Bracken Remix, Knee Jerk).Electronica, chock full of bleeps and glitches, takes the driving seat,perhaps inevitably, in the very Errors-like Errors Remix of An Idle Brainand The Devil’s Workshop.

Perhaps the only exception to this throw-it-all-in-the-same-pot rule isRemain. Coming just after the midpoint of the album, the slow-burningdrone, with occasional background sounds approximating cricket tweets andrainfall make the track feel like a break in the musical action: a soothinginterlude to lose oneself in, before all the intricate, detailed busynessstarts up again.

As evidenced in their impressive live performances, some extremely andeffortlessly proficient musicianship is on display here. The aforementionedacoustic guitar interludes, but also the intricate and complex intertwiningof duelling call-and-response guitar parts in the outstanding (if annoyingly”hidden”) track Knee Jerk are testament to the serious skills. Importantly,though, these are skills worn lightly: this is not a band to make heavyweather of their talents, or feel obliged to underscore theirvirtuosity.

Certainly, then, fans of post-rock will enjoy this album. It would be ashame, though, if those put off by some of that genre’s more predictabletropes (the pomposity, self-regard, formulaic song structures etc.) indictVessels for others’ crimes, for this is smart, complex, highly skilled yetultimately cohesive and appealing music.

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More on Vessels
Vessels – Dilate
Vessels – Helioscope
Vessels – Retreat
Vessels – White Fields And Open Devices