This is a review of "Helioscope" recorded by Vessels. The review was written by Tim Hearson in 2011.
What's this then? It's only the hotly awaited 2nd stab at a full album by Leeds' very own post-rock/ambient darlings, Vessels. It's a lovely bit of kit, too; chunky, dystopian album art in soft teal. So far, so satisfying.
Immediately striking, once you stop gawkping at the cover, is the excellent capturing of live drums which pound some soul into the pulsating, synthy 'Monoform'. More extended compositions than pop songs, the tracks all clock in around the 5 minute mark, instantly making this an album to set aside a bit of time for.
Repetitive and sectional, comparisons to 65daysofstatic and Mogwai are inescapable - there's a lot about Vessels' sound that is owed to both these artists - but they're by no means a carbon copy. There's a ton of life in each track and the album's full of surprises. Some way into 'The Trap' there's a mathy drop which grooves and grates viciously with the soundscape around it.
Like most post-rock, it's an album that's just as happy to sit in the background as it is to be consciously toothpicked by your dickish muso friends. As 'washing-up' music you're drowned in a sea of pulsating chords and beats while your mind wanders, occasionally drifting back to note a new loop that's just moseyed into the soundscape. In the foreground, you begin to note the interplay, dynamic contrasts and gorgeous swells into chords and notes. These are very well crafted tracks.
Those with a penchant for a good tune in the head will be disappointed though. It is a tad unmemorable (making it a bitch to review), though every time you come back to it you're reminded of feelings and impressions that hit you before. An occasional smattering of vocals helps to keep the album on the edge of the mind - Stuart Warwick's silky tones on 'Meatman, Piano Tuner, Prostitute' make a gorgeous addition to the texture - and also provide a nice break from the continuous synthetic beating.
It's not all alien, there are twinges of familiarity in 'All Our Ends' which starts with a continuous finger-picked guitar line, acoustic guitar melody and some Pendulum-esque vocal lines. In fact, there's a lot in here that the average Joe music fan can get on board with if he's prepared to wade through a lot of spacey bits.
Masters of theme and variation, Vessels have produced something that's accessible on several levels and well worth giving up part of your afternoon to discover. However, to keep up with the energy of the live show, it'll need a decent sound system - octave enhanced bass needs to be felt and you definitely want to make sure every inch of their carefully sculpted soundscapes is heard. It won't be for everyone but if you've got the bug for Sigur Ros style washery and pretty noises then 'Helioscope' has plenty for you to chew on.