Vessels – The Great Distraction (Different Recordings)
Like cartoon rave and industrial folk where the chickens seemingly came before the egg, electronic post-rock should have been assigned to the bargain bin of randomly formed genres a long time ago. Remarkably, Leeds’ Vessels have been plundering this conceptual hydra since 2005 and with some success. The band’s first two albums, both recorded in LA with John Congleton, were classic post-rock affairs before 2015’s Dilate was a conscious shift towards the electronic.
Post-rock itself has long been the problematic offspring (aside from its congruous relationship with sunnier west coast climes), often little more than the younger cooler cousin of prog-rock but with hardcore’s aching minor and discordant progressions, and emo’s themes of loneliness and displacement. And sure, there are still echoes of that here on the meandering ‘Position’ and slow-burner ‘Everyone Is Falling’ but they are so few and far between as to signal a clean break entirely. Electronica’s occasional longing for repetitive, looping musical monologues has led it into the more prosaic and stylistically ground-breaking genre of drone but The Great Distraction does none of this, even going as far as to ape 90s techno veterans Hardfloor towards the end of opener ‘Mobilise’.
It’s more minimal than previous releases and almost wholly electronic, albeit fluid and organic. Fragments of Air, Mew and especially Forest Swords swirl around in a musical wind only anchored by the band’s now defining polyrhythmic beats. Featuring collaborations with The Flaming Lips, John Grant, Katie Harkin and Django Django on their typically muscular instrumental tracks, it might seem fairly obvious where the band are going with their sound. It would be nice to be able to say the vocals add a catchy ambience to the orchestration when in fact they too often feel like a conscious attempt to write something more chart friendly that takes from the overall atmosphere and flow of the record which is a shame. Wayne Coyne’s contribution does nothing more than add a certain indie kudos, while featuring Django Django only really invites their distinctive sound to the party, although marginally less typecast than The XX or Alt-J.
However, collabs aside, ‘Radio Decay’ bridges the gap from previous album Dilate, ‘Radiart’ is a deep house banger that evolves into something so much more immersive and intense, and the slow building ‘Glower’ is more upbeat but with a similar dark undercurrent. In a year of some underwhelming releases by both established bands and electronic acts, how refreshing to hear someone really pushing the envelope and exploring new ideas. And I can’t help thinking there might be so many wonderful remix opportunities here too, a la Battles’ Dross Glop, for some less well-known collaborators that might see The Great Distraction seep even further into our collective subconsciousness.
The Great Distraction is released on 29th September through Different Recordings.
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