There are certain kooky folk who treasure strange little bands like Vaporous Light in spite of their flaws. For the rest of us, unfortunately, those flaws only get in the way of us enjoying this, their debut album’s charms.
Strangely, the first thing on the list of flaws may be the drums. Not only are the drum beats throughout this album unimaginative, they are also incredibly persistent, high-pitched, and often mixed to be louder than the vocals. This gives the songs a wearying beat and detracts from the often leisurely pace of the instrumentals, as is particularly evident when a cheap electronic drum pad takes centre stage on ‘I Keep My Musket Close’.
The drums are part of a cluttered muddy mix which combines a constant foundation of guitars and mandolins with a panopoly of synth sounds that meander between “ethereal but cheesy” and “gratingly squeaky” but most often – particularly on ‘Walter’ – can only be described as “squelchy”. Occasionally, as on opening track ‘Lansdowne House’ and particularly on ‘Baby I’m Not Your Man’, some dissonant electric guitars propel the songs somewhat, but that is not to say that these are conventional rock songs by any measure.
When they peek out from behind the layers of drums, guitars, mandolins and occasionally jarring synthesisers the vocals are a croaky sore-throat sort of warble that while acknowledging the concept of melody never really invest in it. For quite some time this reviewer was convinced that the lead singer had a strong Scottish accent (to the point that this review was originally going to begin with a discussion on the virtues of the Proclaimers). With a bit of digging it seems that he might just be singing in a manner that sort of makes him sound like a drunken Glaswegian.
Poor mixing and strange vocals can sometimes be forgiven in the face of musical vision, but Vaporous Light achieves only an unfocussed style that picks up elements of Malcolm Middleton’s Waxing Gibbous, The Divine Comedy’s theme tune for Father Ted (eg ‘Songs of Love’) and The Olivia Tremor Control, and bathes them in what can best be described as “lo-fi northern psychedelia”. It’s a set of influences that works best when the band is restrained, quiet, and quirky, as on singles ‘Charming News’ and ‘The Eyes of A Fool’ but which gets wildly out of hand elsewhere on the album, particularly on ‘Walter’ and ‘I Keep My Musket Close’.
Vaporous Light’s enthusiasm and personality are undeniable, and they do seem to have enjoyed making this album an awful lot. Underneath endless layers of instruments, questionable stylistic decisions, and poor production, lie thirty-three minutes of jolly jingles. That’s probably as much praise as can be mustered for such a quixotic record.