Who are Vacationer? Find yourself on their website and you’re confronted with an invitation. “IF YOU COULD GO ANYWHERE…” the site beseeches, and offers you a text box to enter in your holiday destination of choice. The background is made up of a large, Instagram-y image of a small airport sitting under balmy skies. Only the usual band info furniture – tour dates, Facebook, Soundcloud – tucked away in small text at the bottom of the page reassures you that Google hasn’t dumped you on the page of a travel agents or advertising agency.
Faced with the somewhat confrontational, intrusive banality – where would I go? What’s it to you? – you might feel truculent and enter something purile – that’ll show them! Only, after entering “POOPYISTAN”, the site sorrowfully informs you: “NO MATCHING VIDEOS. TRY ANOTHER DESTINATION”. Begrudgingly, you enter, vaguely, “AFRICA”.
A new page opens and ‘Trip’, the band’s quasi-blog hit from 2011 starts filtering in from somewhere. Something like an old gameshow jingle, jungle caws and a sun-bleached sample loops around before the song proper launches and lead vocalist Kenny Vasoli offers the following sunny profundity with a spring in his voice: “I need a trip/A trip’s what I need”. On the screen, vague images of “AFRICA” – presumably chosen by some unblinking machine – start playing: straw huts, Masai tribe members, the Serengeti. Yes, this is “AFRICA”, you say to yourself, and the music seems plausibly tropical, too. I can almost feel the hammock, taste the mojitos, and smell the surf.
It’s only a neat trick once, though. And the serendipity of “AFRICA” and ‘Trip’ soon proves to be anything but. Entering in “ITALY” (I love pizza) plays ‘Trip’ again. Entering in “BRITAIN” (it’s the Olympics, after all) gets the same result – this time scenes of rainy moors, red buses, a slide that opens with the incongruously amusing “THE ENGLISH LAKE DISTRICT AND CARLISE CASTLE 1967”. ‘I need a trip/A trip’s what I need’. Well, now I’m not so sure.
Gone is a concept album of sorts about holidays and escape. In offering you a holiday of the mind it’s guided by the maxim that the past is a foreign country; the band’s attempt to capture foreign vistas and exotic climes is as much about producing a sound with ready-made nostalgia built in as it is about capturing a sense of place. Album opener ‘Everyone Knows’ opens with a forwardly tilting Wurlitzer riff that sounds like an ad agency’s not-so-subtle copy of Grizzly Bear’s ‘Two Weeks’ (itself a nostalgic nod to the era of Elton John and ELO), while ‘Good As New’ swirls around an East Coast boom-bap beat and a J Dilla-type sliced sample of soul strings. The intent is nostalgic, the sense of music as heard from a passing car, wafting through your childhood home, or booming from inside of a (rather tame) club, but it’s always a second-hand copy of a copy – nostalgia for nostalgia. If only Vacationer did things differently here.
Like the website, Gone is a seemingly kaleidoscope album that takes in a lot of stylistic cues but rarely uses them in anything but a decorative way. Like a Choose Your Own Adventure book that offers you tales of robots and dragons and princesses but always feels broadly familiar, the mood on the album is never a million miles away from a soft, earnest take on the tame neo-psychedelic of MGMT or the tame Mumrock of Coldplay and their lesser copies. Warm harmonies and click-clack percussion pervades everything and suffocates anything that might have been an interesting execution. You can have any style of music you like as long as you want a profoundly beige, gloopy style of music.
Perhaps all music is about escape and the longing to escape. There are entire genres that already exist around the novelty that Gone is built around : chillwave, in a sense, is based around the same kind of wan-voiced longings – wasn’t the sun brighter in your childhood? Vacationer, rather than approximating balearic bliss or time-warped memories, take a rather direct, obtuse route to things that are inherent. As a result, it sounds like the music of ad agencies and coffee houses – inoffensive, anaesthetic, neutered, non-intrusive.