Review Summary: Living in the eighties was cool in the eighties.
Don’t let the hipster “retro” fashion sense and the boyish good looks fool you – Matt Van Schie, normally bassist for the self-referential Van She, surprisingly has substance aplenty as a musician. On V
, Van She’s 2008 debut album, he served as somewhat of a secret weapon. His basslines were warm, simple and effective, particularly on album highlights "Strangers" and "Changes"; and he also took lead vocals on what happened to be the album’s best song – closer "A Sharp Knife".
Now, with his main band on some well-deserved downtime, Matt’s put together his debut solo EP, entitled Balmy Nights
. Lasting all of fifteen minutes, it’s a punchy, succinct collection of almost instantly enjoyable pop music. Having said that, you can certainly tell that there’s still a bit of work to be done on the overall sound.
Anyone who has followed Van She for longer than their album would know of their earlier sound – a developmental, obviously inspired pastiche of Countdown heroes and synthesizers that would make Van Halen’s "Jump" blush. Given how much progress Van She have made as a band, it’s interesting and somewhat confusing that Matt would desire to make such a sudden return to this sound. Given, he’s tweaked it slightly to centralise the synth and eradicate the guitar almost entirely, possibly in an attempt to further emboss his own identity on this material. It all comes across as just a little strange to be chasing his tail at this stage of his career, however.
Lead single "Saturday Night", which also opens the EP, has a booming rhythm and a catchy, simplistic chorus that’s all fairly danceable and fun to listen to, but struggles to offer a great deal more beyond this. The rest of Balmy Nights fares just about the same. Perhaps it’s the anachronistic styling of the whole affair, but it’s doesn’t exactly come across as a comfortable mesh of sounds – especially when considering that Van She didn’t exactly win many fans with it the first time around.
Matt’s voice, too, unfortunately proves itself far too lean and wispy to carry its own release. Here, the sound of them is all over the place – the slow-mo balladry of "Journey" sees his weak voice treated as if it’s a heavyweight lifter. Big falsetto, chopped up vocal samples, stinging harmonies and warped effects makes far too much out of not enough, resulting in an undeservedly spoilt track.
In a way, the potential is there on Balmy Nights
. Matt obviously has a good idea of the kind of sound that he’s after on his own, and for all its disposable nature, there’s still a few great choruses in there. Even so, more effort and further development are needed drastically in order for him to shift from Van She to Van Schie.