If the tag of “East London blog darlings” doesn’t send you running for the hills, then stick around as Visions of Trees could actually live up to at least some of the type that’s been following them around since the release of 2009′s Sometimes It Kills EP. Sara Atalar and Joni Juden have been crafting their rave/R’n'B/gothpop mashup since that debut, and finally they’re ready to unleash their first full-length album. We liked them so much they played as part of our Best Fit 5th birthday celebrations, and it’s a rare band that attempts to bridge the gap between headphone listening and dancefloor bangers. So, with glowsticks at the ready let’s try and embrace Visions of Trees.
There are no tracks from that debut EP being reworked or reused here, which is a sign of how confident Atalar and Juden are in their music. ‘Sirens’, ‘Cult of Cobras’ and ‘Sometimes It Kills’ were all cracking tracks, but they’re mostly surpassed by the songs on Visions of Trees. We’ve already had the pleasure of hearing the, errrmm, “disco noir” of ‘Turn 2 U’, its electro pulses and the icy cool vocals of Sara Atalar combining wonderfully to create a late ’90s dancefloor anthem, yet it deals with themes not normally found in club tracks, with Atalar singing of isolation and solitude, rebirth and transformation. This kind of depth and interest is indicative of Visions of Trees’ approach to music, and another example of a primarily electronic band showing that music that emotes and speaks of nature doesn’t have to be made with analogue instruments. There’s a moment on the thumping ‘Disappeared’ where Atalar chants, in time with the beat, “Drag me through a field/Lead me to your thoughts” that encapsulates the band: bringing the outdoors indoors, the clash of something soft against the hard, metallic edges of the music. The slower ‘With You’ approaches the margins of R’n'B and dubstep with a creepy organ loop and skittering drums, and provides some respite alongside the buzz and click of ‘Ocean Floor’, which shows off Juden’s inventiveness with a beat, his restless imagination layering up the grooves but not crowding out Atalar’s cool vocals.
The whole “poppy Crystal Castles” tag makes sense when you listen to the strobe-light rush of ‘Glass Rain’ and the instrumental opener (and my favourite moment despite the lack of vocals) ‘Isolates’, which also channels the spirit of early Prodigy in its ear-splitting synth manipulation. What’s disappointing is the way that the album peters out slightly once we pass the gloomy yet alluring goth of ‘We’re All Dust’; the last few tracks lack the pop hooks of what’s come before and there’s even the horror of a spoken-word interlude that comes close to ruining the otherwise attractive ‘Endless Days of Youth’, a track of blissful R’n'B for long summer evenings.
There’s enough strangeness and individuality on Visions of Trees to suggest that Atalar and Juden have what it takes to keep making great pop music with a bit of an edge (think Sleigh Bells and the aforementioned Crystal Castles) and this can only be a good thing. While the charts are generally full of homogenised music – be it the faceless nu-folk inspired by Mumford & Sons or the ghastly coupling of stadium rave and R’n'B pioneered by the awful, objectionable David Guetta – we need to be thankful for acts like Visions of Trees who are willing to take risks with their (pop) music.