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"Elliptic EP"

Vessels – Elliptic EP
22 November 2013, 13:30 Written by Janne Oinonen

Few phrases are fit to put the fear in the hearts of music fans quite as effectively as ‘hope you like our new direction’. Make that a rock band announcing their brand new dance-influenced sound, and the fear factor is multiplied. Escalate the scenario to a band swapping the traditional rock tools to a bank of electronics, and you can almost hear the collective gnashing of teeth.

This latter scenario – anchored by live drums – is precisely what Vessels are up to on this EP-length follow-up to 2011′s Helioscope. Instead of an awkward dud or a catastrophic misstep, however, we’re looking at the first recorded glimpses of what may well turn out to be the band’s definitive incarnation.

The band’s previous output (two albums and an early EP) have relied on the quiet/loud dynamics of the instrumental mood-building commonly referred to as Post-Rock. As even the most celebrated practitioners in that genre can attest, it’s a style that will almost inevitably lead to certain repetitiveness and, with it, predictability.

For Vessels, the solution lies in the similarly dynamics-obsessed domain of electronic music, and they have much more cause to be messing with machinery than the average band who wish to chuck in a few beats to freshen things up. Although guitars have ruled the roost so far in the band’s sound, various keyboards and electronics have been employed in a support capacity from the start. This time around, the pecking order is reversed: electronics, as operated by a ‘live’ band, dominate, whilst guitars are relegated to a back-up role.

The title track is the most startling showcase of the new sound. In the past, outbursts of almost Metal-tinged heaviness have occasionally got in the way of Vessels’ impressive rhythmic flair and ability to whip up a fearsome momentum. Sleek and streamlined, “Elliptic” solves the problem by placing the rhythm directly under the spotlight, with propulsive results that finally manage to harness the band’s hypnotic live prowess in the studio. The track provides irrefutable proof that, in stark contrast to the stereotypical chin-stroking tendencies of musically advanced instrumental rock, Vessels share dance music’s interest in making the crowd move. There’s a radio edit of “Elliptic” but there really isn’t an ounce of fat on the nine-minute full-fat version: the coda’s percussion face-off is particularly powerful.

Elsewhere, a version of Modeselektor’s “Blue Clouds“ (alongside their recently released take on Nathan Fake’s “The Sky Was Pink“, the only remnant of a planned EP of ‘techno’ covers) is almost as powerful, but can’t match the title track’s compositional richness. “Myopic Biopic”, armed with a colossal bass riff, builds bridges between Vessels old and new.

As strong as the track is, the full-on guitar bombardment of “Come Out of the Sky and Fight This” sounds almost disappointingly conventional next to this, providing a clear sign of just how successful this rebooting of the band’s sound is. If Vessels can somehow combine their new ideas with their sideline in melancholy songcraft (see the ambient shimmer of “Yuki” or the restlessly bubbling “Meatman, Piano Tuner, Prostitute”) they’ll be on to something very, very special. If they stick to the very effective tricks unveiled here, they’ll go down in history as the post-rock band that managed to start a party.

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