Review Summary: It can't be ignored...
Why do some bands achieve fame? Sure there is the talent, the skill, but there is a certain degree of luck involved as well. Sometimes much better bands are left in the dark while similar bands of possibly lesser skill gain acclaim. 2008 has been a year that has taught just that. Bands proclaimed to be the pinnacle of their genres have faltered, while relative newcomers have wowed. Opeth's mediocre release is still seen as something special in the prog death metal world, while In Mourning's new, superior album has remained somewhat overlooked. Protest the Hero did release another superb album, but Today i Caught the Plague's release, possibly a better one, has been a whisper. It's all relative, which leads to Canadian Prog-outfit Braitoy's Vehicles
. Though still lacking a bit of maturity, it is an album that must be heard, one that offers a band with an extremely bright future.
Album's rarely start off with more of a bang than the title track here. Piano and synth combine for an intro that draws, with eventual soaring vocals and a "hey, that'll be stuck in my head for two weeks" riff. A feeling of intensity swarms, but does not overcome, the vocals will not allow it. They instead decide to soar above it, rather than be pulled in. This all comes to a halt, and a little bass soothes, while soft drumming lulls. The vocals return, seemingly forcing the music to return to where it had once been. Crooning, they continue to tug, but the song will not be pulled in yet. Then, the build, this is it. "Soap and Water, Bleed." An explosive return to form, but still relenting just a bit, until the solo, perfect. The vocals now become less soar and more emotive. Things appear to be falling apart amidst a chaotic loss of form. "It can't be ignored."
Possibly the best song of the year, "Vehicles" is the pinnacle. Since it is the opener, there is a let down, but that let down never can overcome. Why? Well the parts are too much, the musical intelligence too great to allow that to happen. It all starts with new vocalist, Tristan Green. For comparison, he has Gavin Hayes's (CWA era dredg) ability to soar, but still has that sense of emotion Gavin seems to have lost. Adding to this is his more aggressive attack, a Maynard Keenan-influenced rasp. In all honesty, the latter is often much less interesting than the former , but it does allow for a change-up. Green's greatest strength is his ability to control songs, stapling them his own. He controls "The Projectionist," making it something entirely memorable. "Banyan Tree" is his ballad and is extremely effective (at least to a love-sick puppy like myself). His greatest weakness, however, is the terrible words that sometimes come out of his mouth. Some of the lyrics tend to be purveyors of douche-chills rather than inspirational or emotional, and sometimes really hinder the excellence of everything else going on. However, when things are working together, such as in the ambient "Interlude," his vocals are both breath-taking and heart-breaking.
But how bout dem insturments? Braintoy will not allow their lead singer to be the only star. Displaying both their Porcupine Tree and Tool influences, they prove themselves to be quite formidable. The spouts of ambience throughout work to create serenity. "Surgery Sink" starts off with a wonderful atmosphere, noodling guitars and soft symbal hits, slowly building into the crushing riff. Soon a solo enters, something that Braintoy does extremely well. There are a bunch of solos scattered throughout the album and each one provides for its moment. It gives that extra to the song that a solo is supposed to give, rather than overcoming it. All the members are incredibly tight, the rhythm section especially. "Arsonists and Architects" is a barn-burner of a track, with magnificent bass-work and drumming, yummy main-riff and an intensity not matched the rest of the album. This is the only track that comes close to the perfection of the title track, yet almost every song has some brilliance, something that makes it great and leads to the album feeling complete rather than top-heavy.
Poor lyrics included, there are some negatives to be pointed out. "Charles Justice (The Ballad Of...)" is borderline crummy. The catchy riff does nothing to save the piss-poor lyrics or general lack of anything dynamic in the song. It's filler and should have been left on the cutting room floor. The other main problem is the band's lack of going all or nothing. They are not willing to fully embrace what they are on occasion. "The Projectionist" is an excellent, wonderfully unique song in every element minus the play-it-safe chorus. "Computational Symptoms" suffers from the same, predictable and safe chorus. When they throw the corn in, it completes the meal entirely, but, once in awhile, they play it safe and believe the brownie alone will get them where they need to go. This, however, does not happen often and when they do go in the complete opposite direction, and embrace their proggiest nature, it becomes the wonderfully slow-builder that is "Sputnik II" or the closer taken straight from prog-heaven, "Said and Done."
So what is Vehicles
? It's the prog revelation of 2008. Better than the over-praised Cog, this is the album that solidifies a newcomer. With amazing, soaring vocals and a solid versatility, superb in their brevity, yet sense of belonging, solos, bass that pulls itself to the fore-front without being overtly showy, and drums that channel the greats, Braintoy really have something special. Sure there are sometimes crappy lyrics, and sure they play it safe a few times, but neither hinder the overall experience. It should be taken next to Shrouded Divine and Ms Mary Mallon as something that is perhaps better than the heavy hitters themselves. "It can't be ignored."