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Vessels- White Fields And Open Devices

Vessels: White Fields And Open Devices

August 19, 2008 by Simon Catling (Edit)

All of this Olympic talk; imagine if you will that there was some form of new music version where countries sent their best groups and performers to compete against each other. If there were such a thing, and Britain sent a team, then surely the Leeds music scene would be the equivalent of the current British cycling team. A veritable feast of exciting sounds has spread from the white rose heartland this year; from the ridiculous yet divine Wild Beasts to the frenetic Pulled Apart By Horses with a hell of a lot more in between, and now you can add the slow burning success of Vessels to that list thanks to a delight of a debut album that’s been a long time coming but well worth the wait.

Dare it be said, but it seems the spark is coming back into progressive instrumental music at the moment; it wasn’t so long ago that reviewers were crying out for a change from yet another group of timid but accomplished musicians wearing their Explosions In The Sky and Mogwai influences on their sleeves with little else to add. Yet this year it’s been noticeable of a great many reviews starting out just like this one; a cry out for something new and then the admission that the reviewed album in question is in fact really quite good. That’s very much the case here, because in ‘White Field And Open Devices’ there is depth, passion, and most of all edge and excitement in abundance. For this look no further than the now familiar and excellent ‘Yuki’; a track that’s been around since the earlier months of 2007, yet it’s presence here is welcome and a great encapsulation of what this album offers as a whole, with murmuring and humming electronic percussive bleeps and stutters never forcing the gently building piano melody and vocal aside like other bands of their ilk sometimes do; but encouraging and whipping up a brief whirlwind of rhythmic glitches and throbbing guitars.

To focus purely on this song would be to sell Vessels debut LP short however as every track on this album manages to vary from the others and yet still retain a thread that sews its way through the entire patchwork of sounds and emotions portrayed here. In some cases this can mean harking right back to some of the forerunners to what became known as the post-rock genre; bands like Slint and Bark Psychosis. Second track ‘A Hundred Times In Every Direction’ in particular manages to contain that very hostile, rough separation between vocals and sparse instrumentation that much of Slint’s eponymous album ‘Spiderland’ featured, as well as the sudden gear changes from raw and empty to dense sound and frantic pace. ‘An Idle Brain At The Devil’s Workshop’ meanwhile starts off tight and jagged (did someone mention Foals there? Hush at the back!) In truth it’s not a massive jump in imagination to see the similarities between the current darlings of the indie scene and Vessels on this track; perhaps as if realising this though the Leeds group release the trigger and suddenly the whole thing explodes into a roaring, rumbling monolith of a storm before just as quickly subsiding into a silky, hushed finale.

The influence of math-rock does feature quite heavily throughout ‘White Field And Open Devices’, and it’s this that’s key to taking Vessels’ sound above that of “just another post-rock band”. It’s there right from the beginning; ‘Altered Beast’ with its multiple time signature changes and off-beat drumming is a measured and carefully crafted introduction to an album littered with such intriguing fragments. Production plays a part also, it’s rare to hear an album that can veer from sounding so vast and expansive to suddenly appear so intimate and compact; a good example of this is midway through fifth track ‘Walking Through Walls’, where gaping reverb suddenly gives way to a clear and concise acoustic guitar. It’s added subtle touches like this that constantly conspire to surprise the listener just when there’s the threat of predictability seeping in.

Because believe it or not, there a couple of pointers for improvement. ‘Happy Accident’, whilst not a bad track, certainly adds nothing new to the canon of the Leeds group and reminds of peers Maybeshewill, yet sadly lacking the urgency and attention tugging hook that the Leicestershire group manage so well on their own impressive debut. ‘Look At That Cloud!’ is another song that suffers from the exalted company it finds itself surrounded by; an eight minute stab at greatness that only really breaks through into such realms in the final quarter. Yet, aside from these trifles, it’s a stirring and fantastic debut, rising to rapid crescendos before settling into dreamlike atmospherics in the second half of the album in particular. Like all captivating dreams though the final twist comes at the end as closing track ‘Waves Those Arms, Airmen’ creeps and slivers into focus, imposing an air of sinister undertone that wraps up and smothers the softly dozing animal of the previous few tracks. Sparse, but with a gradual sense of anxiety that they couldn’t quite pull off earlier on in ‘Happy Accident’, it’s a beautifully dark epilogue that builds and builds on the back of burbling electronics before crashing into a tumultuous heap leaving only wavering feedback as a token that it was ever here in the first place.

Vessels then have created a quite wonderful debut that successfully manages to leap off cliffs and soar up to the stars without ever losing its path so that at the end, once all the pieces finally fall into place, it can give its listener one final twist. Whilst at times it can struggle to truly envelope and captivate your emotions, White Fields And Open Devices remains an album that’s personality and ambition is there for all to see; and if there’s personality to be seen within a record then surely you’ve got to be doing something right.

Date Released: Out Now
Label: Cuckundoo Records

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