The Great Distraction by VesselsRelease date: September 29, 2017
Label: Different Recordings
Vessels’ transformation from introspective post-rock band to mind-expanding electronica outfit is complete. This, their fourth album, and their second essentially as a band making IDM, shows a coming of age. Formed in 2005 and after making two well-received albums of intricate, guitar-based math rock, Vessels underwent a complete change with this album’s predecessor, Dilate. A critically acclaimed and tight little collection of electronic tunes, including the stunning ‘Elliptic’, this third album marked new territory for Vessels. Same line up, same focus on complex and well-crafted songs – though with the same disregard for traditional verse-chorus-verse type stuff – the change was an unusual and daring step for any band: a complete re-imagining of their sound; a massive genre shift.
The Great Distraction, hotly anticipated by fans to see where they will go next, shows a band growing in self-assurance, flexing their electronica muscles and creating a nuanced set of tunes that start the listener thinking about just how far this bunch could go. Teaser ‘Radiart’, released already with artsy distracting video to boot, is a lively and absorbing tune, promising great music to come. And I’m very happy to say that the rest of the album lives up to that expectation.
Opener ‘Mobilise’ starts with a rhythmic understated patter, stealthy beats and drone-like undercurrent. It builds from there, adding sounds that open it up, reaching for the sky. Four minutes in, and it’s reaching further, pushing the euphoria and making like a dancefloor stomper. In terms of song structure this 8-minutes-plus track shows off Vessels’ roots as a post-rock band: starting quiet, adding layers of sound and melody to create a mounting vibe, building the tension before the final few minutes of abandonment. A great start.
The Great Distraction includes some exciting collaborations, bringing in vocals that lift the songs that feature them. This is a good thing. In their post-rock days vocals didn’t feature greatly in Vessels’ songs, and when they did they were very light, and, I felt, never very committed. This is not the case any longer. Second track, the trippy highlight ‘Deflect the Light’ features Flaming Lips’ Wayne Coyne, with a wistful vocal that does a relative first for Vessels – tells a story with words. Its uplifting melody brings to mind the likes of the Orb’s ‘Little Fluffy Clouds’ for sheer dreaminess and feel. ‘Deeper in A Sky’, featuring Katie Harkin, formerly of indie trio Sleater Kinney but carving a career for herself as dance music vocalist for hire, is a lively tune that is raised further by Harkin’s voice. The song is given another dimension by snatched samples that sound like other voices. Vincent Neff of Django Django sings on the bleepy ‘Trust Me’, which has a similar vibe to ‘Deflect…’. Echoey vocals weave amongst a synth melody and light percussion.
The changing tempo of the different tracks is expertly paced and arranged throughout, stepping from the pulsing beats of ‘Mobilise’, ‘Position’ and ‘Radiart’ to dreamy stargazers like ‘Deflect the Light’ and back again. There’s even melancholic downtime, with ‘Everyone is Falling’ starting with a deep, slow organ melody played over a low drone. It builds, but is a sombre note in an otherwise very positive-sounding album.
Despite being an ‘electronic’ band, Vessels play their music live, creating it on the night and playing their instruments. This includes drumming, and it’s true to say that the percussion on the album does feel like that of a rock band at times, such as on ‘Trust Me’. The beat-driven ‘Radio Decay’ is enhanced by the live percussive sound. Elsewhere the electronica is all, as on the ‘Position’, which is strongly reminiscent of Snivilization-era Orbital. Glitchy, understated samples and repetitive synth riffs to build to a pulsing finish that will get the floor bouncing at gigs.
With The Great Distraction Vessels show a new maturity and confidence in their skin and the band deserve to have their profile raised a great deal by its release. It’s an album of really intelligent dance music made by five musicians who are stepping into their stride and have much more to give, I’m sure.